The biggest decision of the economic recovery will be made in the next six months, and Barack Obama will have almost nothing to do with it.
Forget the debate over TARP, and never mind the questions about a second stimulus. This decision is about when to pull out $1 trillion that’s propping up the U.S. banking system. And it will be Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his Fed colleagues who make the call.
That’s hard enough for a White House that knows its political fortunes rise and fall with the economy.
What’s worse is that Bernanke and Obama – like many presidents and Fed chairmen past – won’t necessarily have the same goals for this trillion-dollar decision.
Fed chiefs worry about inflation. Bernanke wants to take the money out quickly enough to prevent the economy from overheating and causing a jump in prices that strangles growth. But move too fast, and the economic recovery runs out of fuel.
Presidents worry about jobs. Obama probably wouldn’t mind a little overheating, say, next summer – when voters are starting to make up their minds about the 2010 congressional elections, and he hopes the economy can shake the 10-percent unemployment rate doldrums.
“Any chairman of the Fed will do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the administration,” said Ernest Patrikis, a partner at the law firm White & Case who spent 30 years at the New York Fed. “That’s his job – that’s why he’s apolitical.”