WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke strongly defended the central bank's rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. to skeptical lawmakers Wednesday and refused to rule out similar actions in the future.

A dozen members of the Joint Economic Committee spent nearly three hours picking apart the Fed's backstopping of Bear, probing why the $29 billion arrangement was designed so quickly and whether it exposed taxpayers to significant risk. Bernanke insisted that a full-blown collapse of the investment bank would have been a large shock to the broader economy.

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