The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- If financial analysts were hoping for Ben Bernanke to announce bold new policy initiatives at the
Fed this morning,
they were disappointed. Bernanke spoke at length of his belief that America's diverse economies, research capabilities and technological strengths will eventually be enough to return the country to long-term growth and prosperity, though not as quickly as we all might prefer.
He aimed a few delicate but pointed jabs at Washington, particularly noting the recent debacle over raising the nation's debt ceiling. He reassured us that the Fed is studying possible courses of action and remains ready to take any necessary steps to help the economy. However, he neglected to mention what those steps might be or give us any real indication of when the Fed might take them.
In fairness, it's probably no surprise that Bernanke didn't offer more. There are, after all, limits to what the Fed can do to address the nation's economic woes. Interest rates are already shockingly low, with short-term interest rates near zero. If they fall any further, banks will cut off the trickle of money they're still willing to lend. The Fed's last stimulus package wasn't enough to lift the country out of the economic doldrums, so it's understandable that the Fed might be reluctant to throw good money after bad. Beyond that, the Fed doesn't have a lot of economic arrows in its quiver.
The real problem is that remedies for the nation's economic woes are far less monetary than political. America has a lagging economy, high unemployment, a seriously wounded housing market, and an unsustainably high federal debt. It also has what may be the most deeply divided federal government in our nation's history. Politics in Washington have reached a seemingly unbreakable impasse, with each party quarrelling internally even as they battle one another.
No matter what the Fed does to improve the economy temporarily, lasting change will depend on politicians who currently seem far more concerned with impressing their most politically extreme constituents than with getting anything done.
Both parties seem to be far more focused on the 2012 elections than on addressing the very real problems facing the nation right now. It's a bad campaign strategy, and bad strategy for managing the nation's economic problems. November 2012 is over a year away, and the newly-elected Congress won't sit in session until January of 2013.
A lot can go wrong in 16 months, and it probably will if all the politicians in Washington do nothing but dance for their constituents until the votes are counted. And there's no guarantee that the election will produce a better crop of lawmakers. When voters focus on "throwing the bums out," they don't always pay much attention to whether the bums they're putting in are any improvement.
Thankfully, Bernanke has the answer if federal politicians have the ears to hear him and the will to act. Bernanke called for "a better process for making fiscal decisions" as well as "clear and transparent budget goals, together with budget mechanisms to establish the credibility of these goals." Lawmakers needn't sacrifice their political principles -- they just need to relinquish their inflammatory rhetoric and put the nation's welfare ahead of their own ambition.
If Congress and the President can find a way to collaborate to achieve Bernanke's vision, everyone will benefit. The country will be better served, and our leaders will have a better chance of winning a well-deserved re-election. The Fed still may not act, but the good news is, it probably won't have to.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.