Fed chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the Senate Banking Committee today regarding the fragile state of the nation’s economy. He took direct aim at the Democrats’ tactic of threatening to take the nation over the “fiscal cliff” if they cannot raise taxes on wealthier Americans.
BERNANKE: As is well known, U.S. fiscal policies are on an unsustainable path, and the development of a credible medium-term plan for controlling deficits should be a high priority. At the same time, fiscal decisions should take into account the fragility of the recovery. That recovery could be endangered by the confluence of tax increases and spending reductions that will take effect early next year if no legislative action is taken. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that, if the full range of tax increases and spending cuts were allowed to take effect–a scenario widely referred to as the fiscal cliff–a shallow recession would occur early next year and about 1-1/4 million fewer jobs would be created in 2013.3 These estimates do not incorporate the additional negative effects likely to result from public uncertainty about how these matters will be resolved.
The chairman’s full testimony paints a dire picture of an economic rebound that has stalled this year.
The U.S. economy has continued to recover, but economic activity appears to have decelerated somewhat during the first half of this year. After rising at an annual rate of 2-1/2 percent in the second half of 2011, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at a 2 percent pace in the first quarter of 2012, and available indicators point to a still-smaller gain in the second quarter.
Conditions in the labor market improved during the latter part of 2011 and early this year, with the unemployment rate falling about a percentage point over that period. However, after running at nearly 200,000 per month during the fourth and first quarters, the average increase in payroll employment shrank to 75,000 per month during the second quarter. Issues related to seasonal adjustment and the unusually warm weather this past winter can account for a part, but only a part, of this loss of momentum in job creation. At the same time, the jobless rate has recently leveled out at just over 8 percent.