FORT BLISS, Texas ― Spurring stronger growth and more robust job creation in the weak recovery are top priorities for the Federal Reserve, Chairman Ben Bernanke told a military audience at a rare public forum on Thursday.
“For a lot of people, I know, it doesn’t feel like the recession ever ended,” Bernanke said in remarks before a town hall-style meeting at which he fielded questions from an audience of 175 military personnel and family members.
Two of the Fed’s harshest critics are Texans and Republican candidates for president — Governor Rick Perry and Representative Ron Paul. Bernanke, who met troops returning from Iraq at 2:45 in the morning, used the setting to defend the central bank’s aggressive policies to promote growth and rebut charges it was recklessly spending government money.
Bernanke said the 9 percent jobless rate and record numbers of long-term unemployed Americans are serious problems preoccupying policymakers.
“We at the Federal Reserve have been focusing intently on supporting job creation. Supporting job creation is half of our marching orders, so to speak,” he said.
The Fed’s other job is to keep inflation in check. Bernanke said inflation should moderate and remain close to the Fed’s preferred level of 2 percent or a bit less for the foreseeable future.
Bernanke defended aggressive Fed policies against critics who charge the U.S. central bank has recklessly printed money without regard for the dangers of inflation or a weaker dollar.
“It is important to understand that this type of activity isn’t the same as government spending,” he said.
Public appearances by a Fed chairman are rare. Bernanke’s second-ever town-hall meeting — the last was in July 2009 — likely reflects a desire to counter critics from both political parties.
At Fort Bliss, most members of the audience were dressed in olive camouflage fatigues. Bernanke’s remarks were punctuated on occasion by the fussing and chattering of young children.
Republicans have focused on attacking the Fed’s extensive easy money policies, saying the central bank has failed to revive the economy despite cutting interest rates to near zero and buying $2.3 trillion in bonds. Some have warned the Fed against taking actions best left to fiscal policymakers.
Perry has equated the Fed’s bond buying with treason and suggested Texans might “treat him pretty ugly” if he ever went to the Lone Star State. Paul, a long-time advocate of returning to pegging the value of the dollar to gold or silver, wants to abolish the Fed.
Democrats have charged that the Fed has implemented policies benefiting Wall Street while disregarding the economic struggles of ordinary Americans. Some argue Fed policymakers should be subject to greater accountability.