Transcript: Diane Sawyer Sits Down with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

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DIANE SAWYER: As you know there's been a rising concern about income inequality in this country and also about the feeling that the banks have been given special circumstances, as somebody said, the rules were rigged in favor of the bank. And-- and-- an economist said to ask you this, that you know, you gave a lifeline to the banks. What can you do to get them to start lending to small businesses?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Well-- you know, we-- we did what a central bank is supposed to do is we did what was necessary to stop the financial crisis. We were facing a global financial meltdown which would have brought down the world economy. And that was just something we couldn't allow to happen. And it wasn't a question of helping banks, it was a question of helping everybody, the whole economy. Now, going forward-- you know, we've-- we've imposed a lot of new rules on the banks. And we're--

DIANE SAWYER: Which they don't like.

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Which they don't like. And you know, we're gonna be much tougher. And we have-- very importantly--

DIANE SAWYER: Tougher still?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: We continue to be tougher and we'll continue to-- add-- the rules necessary to make sure that they're-- operating in a safe manner, in a way that doesn't endanger-- our economic system. In terms of lending we've emphasized to the banks the importance of making loans to-- to good borrowers, that's-- that's the reason the financial system's so important because-- our system lives on credit.

DIANE SAWYER: Is there more you can do? Is there anything more you can do?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Well, we're doing-- a lot and we'll do more. I mean, we are-- meeting with the banks regularly. We have our examiners-- looking at their lending and do-- we're doing everything we can to make sure that we as examiners aren't artificially constraining their-- their lending. And we are seeing some progress. For example-- lending to medium and larger businesses is-- is-- is definitely up. And we've seen modest improvement at small business level, as well.

DIANE SAWYER: Gas prices?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Well, gas prices are-- are a major problem. They're obviously-- a hardship for lots of people. It must be awfully frustrating to get a small raise at work and then have it all eaten by a higher cost of commuting. From the economy's point of view they're-- a moderate risk-- they'll--

DIANE SAWYER: Moderate?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Moderate, I would say.

DIANE SAWYER: But threatening the recovery?

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: At this point-- at this point I would say it's still moderate. We'll see a little bit higher inflation the next few months because of the higher gas prices. And we'll see consumers-- with a little l-- less-- income to spend. And that will also be-- a bit of-- a hit on growth. But at this level we don't think yet that-- particularly given the other good news we've seen in-- in labor markets and so on-- we don't think it's gonna be anything that's gonna-- stall the recovery. Now of course, you know, we have to watch what's happening there. The Middle East is very unpredictable-- lots of things happening with respect to Iran and so on, so you know, we obviously-- need to be-- very attentive to that. But to this point while it certainly is a major hardship for lots of people-- we don't see it as really endangering the-- the economic recovery.

DIANE SAWYER: You have real hope they'll come down after a month if there's no Israeli/Iran attack?

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