NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers Tuesday that the economy has started to show signs of stabilization, although he cautioned that improvement is uncertain and likely to be gradual going forward.
Bernanke also reiterated that the Fed will be able to keep inflation at bay by unwinding many of the various lending programs it has put in place to encourage banks to start lending again. But he declined to give a time frame for when the Fed might begin its so-called exit strategy.
The head of the central bank, appearing before the House Financial Services Committee in his semi-annual testimony on the state of the economy, forecast a relatively sluggish recovery.
Bernanke said the unemployment rate would be higher than preferred levels until at least 2012. But he added that steps taken by the Fed to pump money into the economy have started to pay benefits.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - West Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd ended a two-month absence from the Senate Tuesday when he returned for a vote on the F-22 jet fighter program.
In a statement issued by his office Tuesday, Byrd said it was "wonderful to be back in the august body where I have served for more than 50 years, and to see all my colleagues who have been so supportive of me during my recent hospitalization."
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who as the Democratic whip is in charge of counting the party's votes in the chamber, told reporters he was glad to see his colleague back. "All's right in the world: Robert C. Byrd is on the floor of the Senate," Durbin says he told Byrd when the two men saw each other today. He says the West Virginia senator smiled in response.
Byrd has been away from the Senate since mid-May, when he was hospitalized for a minor infection, then contracted a staph infection while he was in the hospital.
His office said the senator is expected to ease back into his duties, and to vote on Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination, health care reform, and climate change legislation.
–CNN Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - As President Barack Obama pushes back against critics of his health care plan, a new national poll indicates that half the country disapproves of how he's handling the issue.
That's the finding in a USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday. Forty-four percent of those questioned in the survey approve of how Obama's dealing with health care, while 50 percent do not.
The poll is the fourth national survey in the past month to suggest that the president's approval rating on health care reform is now under 50 percent, joining an ABC News/Washington Post poll, a CBS News survey, and a Quinnipiac University poll. It is the first poll to show the number who disapprove of Obama's track record on health care higher than the number who give Obama a positive rating on that issue.
"Obama's support on health care is similiiar to the pattern that polls found for Bill Clinton in 1993," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In April of 1993, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found 51 percent of Americans who approved of how Clinton was handling health care policy. By August of that year, Clinton's approval rating on health care had dropped to 44 percent."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that political motives are behind Republican efforts to block health care reform in Congress.
In a Rose Garden statement, Obama said Republicans "who openly announce their intentions to block this reform" would "rather score political points" than confront an ailing health care system that is draining the federal budget while leaving 46 million Americans uninsured.
"Time and again we've heard excuses to delay and defeat reform," Obama said a day after the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a leading conservative columnist both called for blocking health care legislation being debated in Congress.
CNN Radio: Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on the health care battle
The president said such tactics "play the politics of the moment instead of putting the interests of the people first."
"Some will try to delay action so that special interests can kill it," Obama said. "We can choose to follow that playbook again, or we can come together and insist this time will be different."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate approved a measure to remove $1.75 billion for an additional seven F-22 fighter jets from the fiscal year 2010 budget Tuesday.
The 58-40 vote gave the White House and the Pentagon a key victory over congressional boosters of the popular defense program.
Congress had initially inserted the spending provision in the defense budget despite insistence from President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the additional planes are not needed or wanted by the military.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sometimes even one of the most powerful men in the world has to answer to the fashion police.
President Barack Obama found himself in just that situation in an interview that aired Tuesday on NBC.
Asked about criticism of the jeans he wore recently when he threw out the first pitch last week at the Major League Baseball All-Star game, Obama didn't make any excuses.
"Michelle – she looks fabulous," the president said of his wife who has increasingly become a global fashion super star since Election Day.
"I'm a little frumpy," Obama said of himself by comparison.
The president also offered some insights into his self-admitted lack of sartorial expertise.
"Up until a few years ago, I only had four suits," the commander-in-chief said.
"I hate to shop. Those jeans are comfortable. And for those of you who want your president to look great in his tight jeans, I'm sorry. I'm not the guy," Obama added.
Obama's jeans choice for his all-star game appearance were widely panned by fashion critics and even dubbed "mom jeans."
Related video: Jeanne Moos takes on Obama's 'mom jeans'
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed its confirmation vote for Judge Sonia Sotomayor by one week Tuesday, acceding to GOP demands for more time to examine the Supreme Court nominee's record.
"We all know that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed," said panel chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. "Once she is passed in this committee, there will be no delay on the floor."
The White House and congressional Democrats have expressed confidence that a final floor vote on Sotomayor will occur before the early August Senate recess, leaving her with sufficient time to get settled into her new job and prepare for the high court's next oral arguments, scheduled for September 9.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voiced her support for the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge, joining three GOP colleagues who earlier said they would vote for the nominee.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has joined her fellow GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe, Mel Martinez and Richard Lugar in announcing her intent to support Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The judge "has impressive legal experience, has excelled throughout her life, and is a tremendously accomplished person," Collins said in a statement released Tuesday.
Collins said she knows that she will not agree with every decision Sotomayor will make as a member of the nation's highest court, but adds that she has "concluded that Judge Sotomayor understands the proper rule of a judge and is committed to applying the law impartially without bias or favoritism."
In a nod to the controversy surrounding Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment, Collins said Tuesday that her "expectation is that Justice Sotomayor will adhere to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's admonition that "a wise old woman and a wise old man would eventually reach the same conclusion in a case.'"
The Senate Judiciary Committee also decided Tuesday to delay the vote on Sotomayor's nomination for a week.
(CNN) - It's not easy being an incumbent governor nowadays.
Just ask Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell: A new poll of Keystone State voters suggests that second-term governor's approval rating has dropped to an all-time low.
Thirty-nine percent of those questioned in a Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday approve of the job Rendell's doing as Pennsylvania governor. That's a drop of 15 points from May, and marks Rendell's lowest level ever in Quinnipiac polling.
The survey indicates that nine out of ten Pennsylvania voters say the inability of Rendell and state lawmakers to come up with a budget agreement by the June 30th deadline is a serious problem, and Rendell gets much of the blame.