News Column

Bernanke Lets Congress Have It in Final Press Conference

December 19, 2013

Heidi Moore, theguardian.com

ben bernanke
Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (file photo)

On his way out of the Federal Reserve for good, chairman Ben Bernanke just gave Congress a big kick in the rear, using his final press conference to blame congressional budget battles for slowing down the economy and increasing unemployment.

Bernanke pulled back on the Federal Reserve's $85bn-a-month stimulus, turning it into a $75bn-a-month stimulus. In any other year, the Fed's pullback on a major, multi-trillion-dollar stimulus after four years should indicate that the economy is better and can stand on its own.

Yet, that is not why the Fed is throttling back on the bond-buying program known as quantitative easing. Bernanke's statements have been so cautious on the economy that one journalist asked him if the Fed is pulling back because it is simply "giving up" on finding a way to create economic growth.

It's a good question. Bernanke very pointedly said that the economy still needs a lot of help: unemployment is high, and the housing recovery is slowing. Most importantly, the Fed explained the economy's troubles in one simple, damning phrase:

Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth.

Fiscal policy is what Congress does (or, for the past few years, hasn't done). It is creating a budget, creating jobs, trying to make sure America is running well by deploying money in the right ways.

Bernanke is not wrong. There's evidence, from Macroeconomic Advisers, that Congress has done measurable damage to the US economy to the tune of $700bn in lost economic activity, 2m jobs gone, and 3% of GDP that we won't have again. The past four years of legislative sessions have gone by without any legislative action from Congress or the administration on economic issues. The closest thing anyone in Washington has done to create jobs in years is to start fundraising for the $500m Obama presidential library.

Now the main issue, after the Senate just passed the US budget for the next two years, is getting lawmakers to take the hint and stop hurting the economy.

Bernanke is taking a risk on his way out the door by indicating that he wants Congress to start doing some work as well. He's said it before often but never as strongly as he did on his way out of the Fed.

Bernanke still sees the past four years of bumping-along-the-bottom economy as an anomaly, and said with hope "we'll see the whites of the eyes of the beginning of the recovery". That may happen. But so far, whenever Congress has seen the whites of the eyes of the recovery, it shoots it down.

(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

Original headline: Ben Bernanke's final message: get your economic act together, Congress



Source: (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.


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