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This is one issue that the Republican presidential candidates agree on

Republican presidential candidates (L-R) John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul stand on stage during the Republican presidential debate Tuesday in Milwaukee. (AFP photo/Joshua Lott)

There wasn’t much the Republican presidential hopefuls agreed on during Tuesday night’s debate, but there was one issue that united them: the Federal Reserve.

The nation’s central bank is responsible for supervising the country’s largest financial institutions and steering the ship of the American economy. It orchestrated the controversial bank bailouts during the Great Recession and provided an unprecedented amount of stimulus in the recovery.

On Tuesday night, several GOP candidates expressed skepticism of the Fed’s effectiveness and voiced concern over the range of its powers. They blamed the central bank for widening inequality and penalizing savers. Some even called for a return to the gold standard.

[After the debate: What the candidates said and where they go from here]

The central bank has argued that its policies have been crucial to averting a depression and helped backstop the recovery in the absence of action from Washington. The Fed is politically independent and so far has successfully fended off attempts by Republican lawmakers to increase oversight of its operations. But the candidates made clear last night that the battle is not over.

“Monetary policy is finally emerging as a center-stage issue in the GOP primary,” said Terry Schilling, executive director at American Principles Project, which is calling for reform of the central bank. “Tonight was a great victory for working families as several more GOP candidates connected the dots between the symptoms of failed monetary policy -- stagnant wages, rising prices and a growing economic disparity between Main Street and Wall Street.”

Here’s a roundup of their comments, lightly edited for length.

[Conservatives have failed to end the Fed, but they're not giving up hope]

Sen. Rand Paul on the Fed and inequality: "But I would also say -- lay some blame at the -- the feet of the Federal Reserve. I think the Federal Reserve has made this problem worse. By artificially keeping interest rates below the market rate, average ordinary citizens have a tough time earning interest, have a tough time making money. They're actually talking now about negative interest.

"The money as it's created through quantitative easing or other means tends to start out in the big banks in New York. And because we're now paying interest for them to keep the money there, much of that money has not filtered out into the economy. So what we're finding is there is increasing income disparity and income inequality.

"We also find that as the Federal Reserve destroys the value of the currency, what you're finding is that, if you're poor, if you make $20,000 a year and you have three or four kids, and you're trying to get by, as your prices rise or as the value of the dollar shrinks, these are the people that are hurt the worst.

"So really we need to reexamine whether we not -- we want a Federal Reserve that's involved so much in determining interest rates. We also need to look at root causes as to what caused the housing boom and the housing collapse."

Ben Carson on whether big banks should be broken up: "Well, I think we should have policies that don't allow them to just enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities. And certainly some of the policies, some of the monetary and Fed policies that we're using makes it very easy for them, makes it very easy for the big corporations, quite frankly, at these very low interest rates, to buy back their stock and to drive the price of that up artificially. Those are the kinds of things that led to the problem in the first place.

"And I think this all really gets back to this whole regulation issue, which is creating a very abnormal situation. This country was -- declared its independence in 1776. In less than 100 years, it was the number-one economic power in the world. And the reason was because we had an atmosphere that encouraged entrepreneurial risk-taking and capital investment. Those are the fuels that drive it."

Sen. Ted Cruz on the Fed and financial instability: "Now, let's be clear, there is a role for the Federal Reserve -- what the Fed is doing now is it is a series of philosopher-kings trying to guess what's happening with the economy. You look at the Fed, one of the reasons we had the financial crash is throughout the 2000s, we had loose money, we had an asset bubble; it drove up the price of real estate, drove up the price of commodities, and then in the third quarter of 2008, the Fed tightened the money and crashed those asset prices, which caused a cascading collapse.

"Instead of adjusting monetary policy according to whims and getting it wrong over and over again and causing booms and busts, what the Fed should be doing is, number one, keeping our money tied to a stable level of gold, and, number two, serving as a lender of last resort."

Gov. John Kasich on leadership change at the Fed: "We need an executive who's been tried, has been tested, and judge the decisions that that executive makes. I don't like what the Fed is doing, but I'll tell you what worries me more than anything else: turning the Fed over to the Congress of the United States ... so they can print the money. That would be a very bad approach."

Gov. Chris Christie on the Fed and politics: "This has been the most political Federal Reserve I've seen in my lifetime. Now, when they first cut interest rates during the economic recession and the crisis, that was the right thing to do. But they've kept those interest rates artificially low for one reason, and one reason only. Because they're trying to politically support Barack Obama and his agenda. And it's been wrong.

"And what it's done, in an administration where the president has talked about income inequality, he's had more income inequality in this administration than any previous administration. The middle class is doing worse than it's ever done before. And the investor class, the wealthy, are doing even better because of this cheap money from the Fed. And here's the worst part, we had 1½ percent GDP growth last quarter. If we slide back towards a recession, you cannot lower interest rates below zero. Where are we going to go if we need help if the economy slides back into recession?

The Fed should be audited, and the Fed should stop playing politics with our money supply."

Rick Santorum on Fed and savings: "They are protecting a president that is over-taxing and over-regulating, shutting down this economy. And he -- and they're keeping it up like Atlas, trying to hold up the Earth by -- by these ridiculously low interest rates.

"And it's hurting American seniors, who are seeing no Social Security increases, seeing no -- no savings. They're -- they're putting their money aside. They're getting nothing in their deposit accounts.

"This is hurting the people who have acted responsibly, all in favor of those who, um, you know, are -- are speculators and -- and those on Wall Street. It's not a good deal for -- for the vast majority of responsible Americans.

"The other thing we have with the Fed is they've been given way too much authority. Under Dodd-Frank, they've been given this enormous new authority. I mean they -- they now have almost become the most powerful entity in Washington, D.C.

"We need to repeal Dodd-Frank, get away that authority from the Fed and put them under more scrutiny."

Mike Huckabee on Fed Chair Janet Yellen: "Well, my wife's name is Janet and when you say Janet Yelling, I'm very familiar with what you mean.

"But, look, I think the Fed is in a big trouble because they haven't addressed the number one issue that's hurting Americans, and that's the fact that wages for the bottom 90 percent of the economy have been stagnant for 40 years.

"In the 25 years after World War II, up to 1971, wages grew by 85 percent in this country. People were -- were moving up in the middle class. There was a middle class. That's not happening any more, and in large measure, the Fed has manipulated the dollar so it doesn't have a standard.

Tie the dollar to something fixed, and if it's not going to be gold, make it the commodity basket. What we need to do is to make sure that they tie the monetary standard to something that makes sense, rather than to their own whims, because who's getting gut-punched?"

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