How Fed's policymakers hold power over your purse

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 3:15 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve's chief policymaking group has vast power over the finances of ordinary people, businesses and investors. The consequences of its interest-rate decisions range wide: from people's ability to get affordable loans to the price of cereal at the grocery store or gasoline at the corner station.

Here's a look at the policymaking group, called the Federal Open Market Committee.

Q: What is the FOMC's primary role?

A: Its mission is to keep the economy, inflation and employment on a healthy track. When the economy weakens, Fed policymakers cut rates or keep them low. The idea is to cause people and businesses to borrow and spend more, which sustains the economy. But when the economy grows so fast that inflation becomes a threat, Fed policymakers will raise rates or keep them high. That makes it costlier for people to borrow. Spending and other economic activity will slow. Companies find it harder to raise prices. Inflation pressures ease.

Q: How does the FOMC move interest rates?

A: Its policymakers decide whether to buy securities. Doing so expands the flow of money into the financial system and lowers the Fed's key interest rate. Conversely, the policymakers could decide to sell securities. That would drain money from the system and tighten credit by raising rates. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is responsible for conducting these operations.

Q: Who's on the committee?

A: It's composed of:

- The Fed's Board of Governors in Washington, which now totals six members but at full strength has seven members.

- The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

- Four of the remaining 11 presidents of the Fed's regional banks. They serve one-year terms on a rotating basis.

Here is this year's roster of voting members: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, and Fed Governors Kevin Warsh, Elizabeth Duke, Daniel Tarullo and Sarah Bloom Raskin, all based in Washington; William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Sandra Pianalto, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland; and Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

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