|Mark Trumbull Staff writer|
The reason for his urgency is what some economic analysts call a "fiscal cliff" that awaits America on
At year-end, a range of tax cuts are currently set to expire, potentially dampening consumer spending as households are forced to send more of their income to the US Treasury.
The Federal Reserve chief was asked about the implications in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, following a scheduled meeting of the Fed's policy committee. Specifically, if no action occurs before a new
"We'll have to take fiscal policy into account to some extent,"
Among the expiring breaks are Bush-era tax rates on personal income, capital gains, and dividends; a payroll-tax reduction; and some tax relief for businesses. The foundation says tax changes related to
Meanwhile, some scheduled spending cuts could reduce the role of the federal government as a consumer in the economy. And the longer-term challenge is that chronic budget deficits keep adding to America's public debt.
Bernanke implied that fiscal inaction could have effects that are hard for the Fed to resolve. In part, that's because global investors could lose faith that the US government can get its deficits under control.
"As I've said many times before, it's imperative for
The second objective, he said, is to set that new course without doing short-term damage to the economy.
"I have concern that if all the tax increases and spending cuts that are associated with the current law … occur on
Amid the alarm bells, it's important to take Bernanke's remarks in context.
The Fed has considerable power to influence the economy, by pumping fresh money into the banking system, but it faces some practical constraints.
The central bank's policy committee has already lowered short-term interest rates nearly to zero, and it's ballooned its balance sheet by buying up assets like mortgage securities, in an effort to nudge the economy into healthier growth. If it tries to do much more, one risk is that inflation could heat up.
Moreover, federal budget policy, an important part of the economy, is outside the Fed's control. So leaning on politicians to act is an obvious step for Bernanke to take.
If politicians don't act, the Fed could always try another round of "quantitative easing" – buying financial assets like bonds in an effort to boost economic optimism and expand the flow of bank credit.
But Bernanke would rather not have to respond to a man-made emergency. And he has genuine concern about what gridlock in
It's not clear when investor confidence in US Treasury bonds might weaken. But many economists say that, without reforms to put
That time may not be far away, says
"My suspicion is that by 2014, if we … have not put forth a credible program to rein in future entitlement spending and raise revenues, then I think the markets are going to start to turn against us," he said in an interview last month.
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