The Bush campaign found good economic news yesterday in an unusual source -- the Federal Reserve's avowed determination to keep raising interest rates.
Many of President Bush's predecessors, most notably his father, have publicly urged the Fed to keep rates as low as possible to spur economic growth.
But in an unusual twist, the campaign welcomed the Fed's decision Tuesday to lift its benchmark overnight rate for the second time in three months as a vote of confidence in the economy's health.
The Fed justified its action by blaming high oil prices for the recent, sharp slow-down in economic growth and fall-off in job creation, and it forecast that the economy will regain momentum in the months ahead.
In an e-mail to reporters yesterday, the Bush campaign provided an excerpt from the statement issued by Fed policymakers after their Tuesday meeting: "Federal Reserve Says the Economy is 'Poised to Resume a Stronger Pace of Expansion Going Forward.' "
The Fed's optimism sent stock prices soaring to their "biggest gains in two months," the campaign e-mail said.
Analysts agreed that the Fed, an institution that carefully guards its political neutrality in overseeing national monetary policy, had intended to bolster investor and business confidence with its comments, not influence the campaign. But, they said, Fed officials should not be surprised that their upbeat assessment would be seized for political gain at a time when voters rank the economy among their top concerns and the two campaigns are debating the effectiveness of Bush's economic policies.
"Anything is fair game in a presidential election," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. But, he said, "I don't think the average voters will really care what the [Fed's] assessment is if they don't have a job, or if they have a job and no wage growth."
Fed officials had no comment on the Bush e-mail.
The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) did not comment on the central bank's action. But spokesman Phil Singer responded to the Bush e-mail by criticizing the Bush administration's economic record.