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Saying He’s Dispensable, Bernanke Suggests Tenure Is Winding Down

Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said that he does not feel a responsibility to lead the central bank when it begins winding down its program to support the US economy.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said that he does not feel a responsibility to lead the central bank when it begins winding down its program to support the US economy.

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, said he has ‘‘spoken to the president a bit’’ about his future but feels no responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy.

‘‘I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,’’ Bernanke said when asked at a news conference if he had discussed his plans with President Obama. His term expires at the end of January.

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Bernanke’s comments on Wednesday meshed with the views of some of Obama’s economic and political advisers who said that Bernanke, 59, after­ spending most of his seven years on the job battling a financial­ crisis and its aftermath, is exhausted and wants to return to private life. The current and former administration officials asked to not be identified to describe the private conversations.

A Fed spokeswoman declined to comment. A White House spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The remarks were a departure from Bernanke’s previous statements that he has not discussed his plans with Obama or White House officials.

On Dec. 12, during his last news conference, Bernanke said that he had not ‘‘had any conversations’’ with the president or anyone on his team about his potential departure.

‘‘I think the president has got quite a few issues he needs to be thinking about, from the fiscal cliff to many other appointments and so on,’’ he said then, when asked if he would serve a third term.

Since his December remarks, Bernanke has had several meetings with Timothy F. Geithner, when he was still Treasury secretary, including one with the president.

On Wednesday, Bernanke said, ‘‘I’ve spoken to the president a bit, but I really don’t have any, I don’t really have any information for you at this juncture.’’

Bernanke, a former Princeton University professor, also said he didn’t feel personally responsible to lead the Fed when it unwinds its balance sheet.

Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression, took steps unprecedented in the Fed’s 100-year history to steer the economy through its worst crisis since the 1930s. He used the Fed’s balance sheet to rescue Bear Stearns and American International Group from collapse, while supporting corporations and small businesses with lending programs that kept credit flowing as banks struggled under rising amounts of home-loan delinquencies.

He cut the benchmark lending rate to zero in December 2008 to boost the economy and then continued to provide stimulus with outright bond purchases, expanding the Fed’s total­ assets to a record $3.17 trillion.

Wednesday, Bernanke said the Fed would maintain its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases and keep its key rate near zero.

Bernanke said that one of the things he hoped to accomplish and was ‘‘not entirely successful at, as the governor or as the chairman of the Federal Reserve, was to try to depersonalize to some extent monetary policy and financial policy and to get broader recognition of the fact that this is an extraordinary institution.’’

‘‘It has a large number of very high-quality policy makers, it has a terrific staff, literally dozens of PhD economists who’ve been working through the crisis, trying to understand these issues and implement our policy tools,’’ Bernanke said.

‘‘And there’s no single person who is essential to that,’’ he added.

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