Fed officials say U.S. must address budget issues

By Reuters
Posted Dec. 1, 2010 at 4:59 p.m.

The European debt crisis should serve as a warning that the United States must address its long-term budget problems, U.S. Federal Reserve officials said on Wednesday.

The president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, James Bullard, described Europe’s crisis as a “wake-up call,” while Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said it provided a “timely lesson” for the United States.

“You can get in so much trouble by borrowing too much,” Bullard told the Fox Business Network. “We should take that lesson to heart here in the U.S.”

A presidential commission on Wednesday unveiled a plan to slash the $1.3 trillion U.S. budget deficit, but it appears to face an uphill struggle gaining the necessary support to force a congressional vote on its recommendations.

Janet Yellen, the influential Fed vice chair, said the U.S. budget situation presents “very difficult challenges” as the U.S. population ages and a greater share of Americans tap Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

“If current policy settings are maintained, the budget will be on an unsustainable path,” she said.

But she warned against tightening fiscal policy prematurely because it “could retard an already tepid recovery.”

Instead, she echoed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in saying short-term fiscal support for the economy would be helpful, as the Fed can’t go it alone.

“A fiscal program that combines a focus on pro-growth policies in the near term with concrete steps to reduce longer-term budget deficits could be a valuable complement to our efforts,” she said.

Yellen said the U.S. unemployment rate, currently at 9.6 percent, is likely to remain high for some time and she cautioned that inflation was too low. Economists expect a government report on Friday to show the jobless rate held steady in November.

Yellen also said it was hard to see a turnaround in the housing market, another barrier to the economic recovery.

“Unfortunately, U.S. economic performance continues to be impaired by the lingering effects of the financial crisis,” she said.


Other Fed officials sounded a more optimistic note about the U.S. economic outlook.

“We are very close to being able to get a strong recovery going in 2011,” said Bullard, a voter this year on the Fed’s policy-setting committee.

Fisher said the economy was in a “gradual state of repair” and that he is not personally concerned about the low rate of U.S. inflation. Fisher, an inflation hawk, opposed the Fed’s controversial decision to buy $600 billion more in Treasury bonds to boost the economy.

Fisher joins the ranks of voters on Fed policy next year.

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, who will not get a vote on monetary policy until 2012, told Bloomberg Radio that he sees the U.S. economy growing about 2.75 percent to 3 percent next year, with “even odds” the unemployment rate will drop to about 9 percent.

He said he was “not well disposed” to the Fed’s bond-buying plan, saying the risks outweighed the benefits.

Yellen, for her part, said she “strongly supported” the Fed’s decision, which has also drawn unusually harsh criticism abroad from countries that have charged the United States with trying to drive down the value of the dollar to support U.S. exports.

Yellen said that by spurring economic growth in the United States and lessening risks to the recovery, U.S. policy should provide support for a “sustained expansion” for the global economy.

“Stronger U.S. growth would boost our demand for foreign goods and reduce incentives for capital flows to emerging markets,” she said.

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