Government Spending

Bernanke to Congress: You Are Going to Have to Cross That Fiscal Valley Yourself

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While I'm reasonably certain we'll find out he didn't mean it, Ben Bernanke tells Congress the Federal Reserve won't just make dollars to help the U.S. government pay off its debt. From the Washington Times:

Recent events in Europe, where Greece and other nations with large, unsustainable deficits like the United States are having increasing trouble selling their debt to investors, show that the U.S. is vulnerable to a sudden reversal of fortunes that would force taxpayers to pay higher interest rates on the debt, Mr. Bernanke said.

"It's not something that is 10 years away. It affects the markets currently," he told the House Financial Services Committee. "It is possible that bond markets will become worried about the sustainability [of yearly deficits over $1 trillion], and we may find ourselves facing higher interest rates even today."

Mr. Bernanke for the first time addressed concerns that the impasse in Congress over tough spending cuts and tax increases needed to bring down deficits will eventually force the Fed to accommodate deficits by printing money and buying Treasury bonds — effectively financing the deficit on behalf of Congress and spurring inflation in the process.

Some economists at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere have advocated this approach, suggesting running moderate inflation rates of 4 percent to 6 percent as a partial solution to the U.S. debt problem. But the move runs the risk of damaging the dollar's reputation and spawning much higher inflation that would be debilitating to the U.S. economy and living standards.

Yet Bernanke, while not actually yet faced with having to do so, says: Nay!

"We're not going to monetize the debt," Mr. Bernanke declared flatly, stressing that Congress needs to start making plans to bring down the deficit to avoid such a dangerous dilemma for the Fed.

"It is very, very important for Congress and administration to come to some kind of program, some kind of plan that will credibly show how the United States government is going to bring itself back to a sustainable position."

So, you know, get on that, Congress. Price of gold today: back above $1,100 an ounce.