Bernanke goes mostly unheard on spending (UPDATED)

The press continues its spotty coverage of Fed's fiscal views

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, yet again, publicly called for spending (ADDING: deficit spending, I should say. Bernanke has talked about both programs and tax cuts) from Congress. Yet again, much of the press ignored him.

Here’s Bernanke in response to a question about whether the Fed should just let Congress and/or market forces work out the economy (by the way, the Fed controls monetary policy, while Congress controls fiscal policy—I sometimes see this confused):

Well, as I’ve said many times, monetary policy is not a panacea. Monetary policy by itself is not going to solve our economic problems. We welcome help and support from any other part of the government, from other economic policy makers. So, collaboration is—would be great… any other support that is forthcoming, any other economic policies that are undertaken that are helpful in terms of making our economy stronger are welcome.

And he has indeed said the same thing many times and it has gone unheard, with no help from skimpy reporting. Back in 2010, I noted how the press, obsessed with deficits as it was at the time, stuffed Bernanke’s call for short-run spending from Congress and the president. Last year, I criticized much of the press again for ignoring another more direct plea by Bernanke for fiscal stimulus. The Wall Street Journal ignored his stimulus comments both those times, although in one instance it got around to mentioning it two weeks later.

This time, Bernanke’s comments, which are now meant as much to fend off the so-called fiscal cliff as they are to push an outright spending increase, came in response to a WSJ question, but the paper still didn’t report them.
The New York Times also missed Bernanke’s fiscal comments, as did USA Today and the Associated Press.

I wouldn’t know Bernanke had said anything about the matter if not for Talking Points Memo, which zeroed in on them, including his warning about the drag of “fiscal restraint at the federal state and local levels.” MSNBC’s Steve Benen spotted it too:

This isn’t exactly subtle — Bernanke has been pleading with Congress for two years to consider fiscal stimulus, but Republicans refuse.

Why aren’t more people reporting this? The Financial Times, which doesn’t mention it either, drops this in its final paragraph:

With Congress mired in election-year gridlock over tax and spending policy, additional fiscal stimulus is virtually off the table in the US, leaving the Fed as the only institution capable of jolting the recovery.

And Brad Plumer of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, writes this:

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that at his news conference on Wednesday, Bernanke did ask Congress to pitch in: “Monetary policy is not a panacea,” he told reporters. “Monetary policy by itself is not going to solve our economic problems. We welcome help and support from any other part of the government, from other economic policy makers. Collaboration would be great.” Trouble is, no one thinks Congress is going to do anything to bolster the economy between now and the election, so everyone’s focused on guessing whether Bernanke has any tools left to stop the deterioration in the chart above.

Just because fiscal stimulus is off the table for now doesn’t mean that the press should ignore it when the nation’s top economic policymaker has been repeatedly saying it should be on the table.

UPDATE: I should clarify that I don’t think the press has completely ignored Bernanke’s fiscal-stimulus comments over the last couple of years. I think it has undercovered them. There’s a natural tendency to resist repeating information, but when the Fed chairman continues to say it’s necessary for a decent recovery and Congress doesn’t listen, it needs to be continually pointed out by reporters.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,