Deep divisions at the Federal Reserve were on display on Tuesday, just two weeks before the U.S. central bank's next policy-setting meeting, with one top Fed official pushing for more easing, and another advocating limits.
The divide underscores the hurdles Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke faces as he tries to win consensus among his fellow policymakers on the central bank's sometimes controversial efforts to bring down the nation's lofty unemployment rate, which registered 7.9 percent last month.
Charles Evans, president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank and one of the Fed's most outspoken doves, said interest rates should stay near zero until the jobless rate falls to at least 6.5 percent. Such a policy would carry only minimal inflation risks, and could boost growth faster than otherwise, he said.
Evans, who rotates into a voting seat on the Fed's policy-setting panel in January, also said the Fed should step up its program of quantitative easing in the new year to keep its overall level of asset purchases at $85 billion a month for most, if not all, of 2013.
But Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, a self-identified inflation hawk, said the U.S. central bank could get into trouble if it does not set a limit on the amount of assets it is willing to buy.
You cannot expand without limits without horrific consequences, he told reporters on the sidelines of the conference organized by the Levy Economics Institute in Berlin. There is no infinity in monetary policy, we know that from the German experience.
In September the Fed launched an open-ended asset-purchase program, kicking it off with a monthly $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities and promising to continue or ramp up the program unless the outlook for the labor market improves substantially.
Those purchases come on top of the $45 billion in long-term Treasuries the Fed is buying each month under Operation Twist, purchases that are funded with sales of a like amount of short-term Treasuries.
It's important to maintain the overall level of asset purchases at $85 billion, at least for a time until we can see whether or not we are doing better or things are going