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Fed's Housing Stimulus Program Divides Central Bank Officials

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WASHINGTON (JEANNINE AVERSA -- AP) -- Some Federal Reserve policymakers last month were conflicted over whether to expand or cut back a program intended to drive down mortgage rates, bolster the housing market and keep the recovery going, according to a document released Wednesday.

Minutes of the Fed's closed-door meeting on Dec. 15-16 revealed that a "few members" thought that the Fed's $1.25 trillion program to buy mortgage securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac might need to be expanded and extended beyond its current end date of March 31. Such an additional dose of stimulus would be especially needed if the economic recovery were to weaken, they argued.

However, one member thought the program could be "scaled back" given the improvement in economic and financial conditions.

The debate over the future of the program comes amid uncertainties about whether the budding recovery can be sustained once government supports are removed.

At the December meeting, Fed policymakers decided not to make any changes to the program. At their September meeting, they opted to slow the pace of the purchases, wrapping them up by the end of March, rather than the end of 2009.

The minutes don't identify speakers by name, but seek to provide a more detailed account of the Fed's discussions.

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