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Bernanke: Fed stimulus tied to economy's health

Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ben Bernanke says the Federal Reserve's efforts to boost the U.S. economy remain tied to the job market's health and inflation, delivering what could be his final semiannual economic report to Congress.

The Fed chairman is appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, repeating the message he gave Wednesday to the House Financial Services Committee.

Bernanke says in prepared remarks that there is no "preset course" for the Fed's $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program: Any change will depend on the economy's performance. He also says the Fed could hold its benchmark short-term interest rate near zero even after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, particularly if the decline is caused by people leaving the workforce.

The Fed's low interest rate policies have spurred a stock market rally and encouraged more borrowing and spending.