By Stephen C. Webster
From September 21 2009
The institution which creates and oversees America’s currency wants to keep a “low profile,” according to a published report on Monday, and may willing to dodge the U.S. Treasury in order to do so.
According to Bloomberg News, the Federal Reserve Bank will not submit to a voluntary public study of its internal structure and methods of governance, as it was requested to do so by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Geithner is the former New York Federal Reserve Bank chairman. The review he requested is part of President Barack Obama’s financial regulatory reforms, which he proposed in mid-June. Part of those reforms would have studied the Fed’s “ability to accomplish its existing and proposed functions” — a proposal the bank’s board of governors appears to have flatly rejected.
“The agency also said that while the report requested by Secretary Geithner and his department has not yet been scrapped, no work has been done on the project, which is due Oct 1,” noted Reuters.
“The institution is trying to keep a low profile,” Vincent Reinhart, a former Fed monetary policy director, told Bloomberg. “To publish a report now invites comment on that report.”
And comments are the last thing the Fed wants right now.
The Federal Reserve has been under growing political fire ever since Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) made it a frequent target during his presidential campaign. However, Paul has been a longtime opponent of the bank, openly calling for it to be abolished and the U.S. dollar to once again be backed by gold, instead of mere faith.
“From the Great Depression, to the stagflation of the seventies, to the burst of the dotcom bubble last year, every economic downturn suffered by the country over the last 80 years can be traced to Federal Reserve policy,” Paul said in 2002, according to congressional records. “The Fed has followed a consistent policy of flooding the economy with easy money, leading to a misallocation of resources and an artificial ‘boom’ followed by a recession or depression when the Fed-created bubble bursts.”
His bill, House Resolution 1207, which would subject the Fed to a complete audit, has gained significant traction in the U.S. House of Representatives, with over half its members signing on in support of the move. Though mostly Republicans, a large cross-section of Democrats reached across the aisle to support the bill, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, recently told a town hall audience that the Fed will be subjected to a complete audit soon. He predicted the House will pass Paul’s bill — or an amalgam of it, wrapped with other regulatory reforms — “probably in October.”
“A companion bill in the Senate introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has 27 cosponsors,” noted The Hill.
The Fed has also come under fire for refusing to disclose which firms it paid massive bailouts to in 2008 and early 2009, amid the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. A particular amount of interest among lawmakers has focused on the Bank of American – Merrill Lynch & Co. merger, which the Fed facilitated.
The House Domestic Policy Subcommittee, under the leadership of Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), subpoenaed the Fed in June for records relating to the transaction. New York Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo has claimed that, in 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke strong-armed BofA into buying Merrill — a move that, if true, could expose Paulson and Bernanke to prosecution. That investigation is under way.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke “has vehemently opposed the idea [of an audit], asserting that it would lead to the politicization of monetary policy by giving Congress an easy way to second-guess any decision the Fed makes,” noted The Los Angeles Times in late August.
That specific argument — that the monetary system is endangered by closer observation of Fed actions — was discounted by Judge Loretta Preska of the Manhattan U.S. District Court, in a ruling that ordered the Fed to disclose which firms received bailout dollars.
While the Fed argued that disclosing who was bailed out on the taxpayer’s dime could be detrimental to the agency’s independence from Congress, Judge Preska wrote that the claim was based merely on “conjecture” and the court remained unconvinced because the Fed had failed to provide adequate evidence to substantiate its claims.
“[The] risk of looking weak to competitors and shareholders is an inherent risk of market participation; information tending to increase that risk does not make the information privileged or confidential,” she wrote.