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Audit The Fed Effort Wins Support From An Unusual Coalition

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An unusual coalition of progressive economists, labor leaders, and bloggers has decided to fight back against a congressional amendment that would allow the Federal Reserve to continue operating in secrecy.

In a Thursday letter to the House Financial Services Committee, economists like Dean Baker and Rob Johnson, author Naomi Klein, and such labor luminaries as the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka and the SEIU's Andy Stern, urged committee members to shoot down an amendment by Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) that would essentially allow the Fed to keep the lights off while it throws money around.

Watt's amendment, which could see a House vote today, is a direct attack against a separate measure by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). That measure, known as the "Audit the Fed" bill, has been gaining momentum in Congress for months.

"A vote for the Watt amendment is a vote for more secret bailouts," the letter says.

The letter notes that during the financial crisis of the past two years, the Fed's role has shifted from simply setting monetary policy via interest rates to rapidly acquiring "a wide variety of private assets and extend[ing] massive secret bailouts to major financial institutions."

Among those bailouts, critics argue, was the Fed's funneling of cash to AIG counterparties. Earlier this week, a government watchdog issued a blistering report that blamed the Federal Reserve for withholding details of its massive rescue of AIG last fall. In particular, the report blamed the Federal Reserve for paying for botching its private negotiations regarding the price AIG's rapidly souring derivatives investments, a secret move that cost taxpayers at least $13 billion.

Watt's office on Wednesday circulated a letter from what it called a "political cross section of prominent economists" who supported the amendment. All but one of those economists are currently or have previously been on the Fed payroll.

The committee will take up the Watt amendment on Thursday.

Here's the letter:

November 18, 2009

House Financial Services Committee
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Frank, Ranking Member Bachus, and Members of the Committee,

During the past two years, the Federal Reserve dramatically changed its operating procedures. Instead of simply setting interest rates to influence macroeconomic conditions, it rapidly acquired a wide variety of private assets and extended massive secret bailouts to major financial institutions.

There are still many questions about the Fed's behavior in these new activities, including potential cronyism and favoritism in its distribution of many trillions of dollars. As the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program recently wrote about their bailout of AIG, the Fed's "strategy to pursue concessions from counterparties offered little opportunity for success, even in light of the willingness of one counterparty to agree to concessions."

The Federal Reserve balance sheet expanded to more than $2 trillion, along with implied and explicit backstops to Wall Street firms that could cost even more. Who received the money? Against what collateral? On what terms and conditions? The only way to find out is through a complete audit of the Federal Reserve. That's why we support the Paul-Grayson amendment requiring a complete audit.

The Watt amendment does not repeal the existing provisions that prohibit a GAO audit of the Federal Reserve. In fact, it adds entirely new additional categories of restrictions. Instead of opening up the Fed's secretive activities to public inspection, the Watt amendment cloaks it in further secrecy.

A vote for the Watt amendment is a vote for more secret bailouts. We urge you to support Paul-Grayson instead.

Sincerely,

Dean Baker, Economist, Center for Economic Policy Research
William Black, Professor of Economics and Law
Tyler Durden, Blogger, Zero Hedge
Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Boston
James K. Galbraith, Economist, University of Texas
Leo Gerard, President, United Steelworkers Union
Jane Hamsher, Blogger, Firedoglake.com
Rob Johnson, Economist
Naomi Klein, Author, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine
Yves Smith, Blogger, Naked Capitalism
Andrew Stern, President, SEIU
Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO
L. Randall Wray, Professor of Economics, Center for Full Employment and Price Stability

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