It's generally not worth reporting on exchanges between backbench committee members and witnesses that occur toward the end of a congressional hearing, because the member often hasn't been at the hearing and merely re-asks questions that have already been posed.
But the exchange at Tuesday's House Financial Services Committee hearing between Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) is of a different sort. The most generous interpretation is that Manzullo is hoping to create footage for a future campaign commercial.
Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, captive extras in his campaign spot, are at a loss as to how to respond -- with Bernanke going so far as to break with the traditional comity that suffocates the hearing structure to tell Manzullo that his question is "poorly posed."
The exchange began before the clip below starts, with Manzullo repeatedly demanding a yes or no answer to a question that neither Geithner, Bernanke or, for that matter, this reporter, can make any sense out of. The inability to answer the question frustrates Manzullo.
"The question is very simple," Manzullo says in one formulation of it. "Maybe I should make a statement: That American people had to bail out AIG so that they could honor their insurance plans with people who bought insurance on their retirement plans. But most Americans still lost 40 to 50 percent of their retirement plans."
It's not quite clear what he wants to know, but Manzullo seems to think that AIG can insure retirement accounts -- he specifically mentions IRAs and 401(k)s -- against downward movements of the stock market. He further seems to think that people with AIG-backed 401(k)s suffered no loss in the stock market thanks to a government bailout. Manzullo's spokesperson didn't return a call, but maybe you can figure out what he's talking about.
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