The Washington Post

The Fed punts

If you’re following the political blogs today, what you’re seeing is mostly the Fast and Furious fuss up on the Hill, and more on the Veepstakes. Neither is likely to affect the November elections — or, for that matter, the lives of most Americans.

What will? The Federal Reserve’s decision today to hold steady for the time being, instead of easing monetary policy policy in response to recent signs of weakening in the economy. In other words, the Fed is not doing anything new to get people back to work.

The reviews (mostly over twitter so far) from liberal and centrist economists and economy-watchers have not been kind. It’s summarized in the first two questions to Fed Chair Ben Bernanke at his afternoon press conference: “You've downgraded the outlook a lot, but not done much. Why?” In other words, the Fed board agrees that the economy needs help, but for whatever reason has chosen not to provide it, at least right now.

The point here is that there’s plenty that the Fed could do, and for better or worse they are the only game in town, given that Congress is not going to do anything helpful, certainly not until after the election. That’s a long time for Americans who are suffering from the continued downturn to wait.

More to the point, there’s a real divide between the parties on how the Fed should be responding to the weak recovery. It’s true that Barack Obama has not made monetary policy a priority, and has (at least publicly) declined to put any pressure on the Fed to act. But Mitt Romney wants the Fed to go in the other direction entirely: He opposes any further efforts by the Fed to help the economy. He has gone at least half-Paulite and seems far more concerned about (phantom) inflation fears than he does about economic growth.

Indeed, on Sunday, in a little-noticed part of his Face the Nation interview, Romney bashed “politicians” who “want to do everything they can just before an election to try and temporarily boost something” when they should be concerned about “the potential threat down the road of inflation.” Greg earlier today talked about about how Romney benefits from a “presumption of deficit hawkery.” What we have here is Romney also benefiting from a presumption that he cares about economic growth, when in that interview he’s explicitly expressing far more concern about inflation.

So enjoy the silly season. But keep in mind that what the Fed did today is what really matters, in terms of policy and electoral politics — and to the lives of millions of Americans.


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