WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve Wednesday lowered its forecast for economic growth in 2011, while also lowering its expectation for the unemployment rate this year, as chairman Ben Bernanke warned the U.S. budget deficit is the “most important economic problem” the country faces.

Speaking in the first press conference for a Fed chairman following an interest rate decision, Bernanke touched on a range of issues from the disasters in Japan to gasoline prices to the Fed’s draw-down of its balance sheet. He said the central bank is expecting first-quarter gross domestic product to expand by less than 2%, noting that the root causes of the weakness are likely to be transitory factors like military spending and weaker exports.

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