Congress is slated to take up the Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization Act (FORM Act) this week. The FORM Act. It includes four key policy changes. A summary from the Daily Signal:
1) Require the Federal Reserve to Operate Under a Rules-Based Framework.
Throughout its history, the Fed has operated within a purely discretionary policy framework. Rules-based monetary policy, on the other hand, gives a central bank a clear set of guidelines that credibly commit it to future policy actions.
Naturally, central banks will be hesitant to support this type of policy change because it limits their discretionary authority, but the FORM Act would allow the Fed to choose its own monetary policy rule. Furthermore, the new framework would give the Fed the flexibility to stop following its policy rule, provided that it explains its decision to Congress.
This approach would greatly reduce uncertainty concerning the Fed’s future policy actions without overly restricting the Fed.
2) Restrict the Fed’s Emergency Lending Authority.
The Fed has a long history of lending to insolvent firms, and the best approach to fixing this problem would be to eliminate the Fed’s emergency lending authority.
The FORM Act doesn’t go this far, but it would implement restrictions aimed at making it more difficult to lend to insolvent firms at subsidy rates of interest, a major problem during the 2008 crisis.
3) Audit the Fed.
Many commentators have pointed out that the Federal Reserve is already subject to financial audits, but the Fed’s monetary policy decisions are off limits to Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits. The FORM Act would remove the restrictions that prevent such GAO audits, thus allowing for a retrospective exam of the Fed’s monetary policy actions.
Critics paint these policy audits as harassment of the Fed, but the GAO is an independent, nonpartisan congressional watchdog that regularly investigates federal agencies. Several former GAO officials have even pointed out that critics of “Audit the Fed” are maligning the GAO. No aspect of what the Federal Reserve does should be off limits to the GAO.
4) Establish the Centennial Monetary Commission.
The FORM Act’s Centennial Monetary Commission is a bipartisan congressional commission based on the one proposed in the Centennial Monetary Commission Act of 2013. The goal of this type of policy would be to “establish a commission to examine the United States monetary policy, evaluate alternative monetary regimes, and recommend a course for monetary policy going forward.”
The commission’s recommendations would not bind Congress to implement any legislation, but it would provide Members of Congress with information they need to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities for monetary policy. Moreover, such a commission would provide a public venue for both critics and supporters to discuss the Fed’s past operations and the appropriate role for the central bank going forward.”
Both President Obama and Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen vehemently opposes the monetary reforms. “In a letter Monday to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Yellen called the proposed law a “grave mistake,” that would undermine Fed policy and the greater U.S. economy.” Yellen further claimed that the FORM Act could cause “millions of Americans to suffer” and would “politicize monetary policy.” Likewise, President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it passed because “the proposal would politicize the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions.”
Peter Wallison from AEI provided some perspective on the FORM Act; he contends that the FORM Act is a positive bill that will bring greater information to financial markets. “Indeed, lack of information on something as important as monetary policy can be harmful to investors and to the economy as a whole, because investors and businesses deploy capital based on what they think will happen to interest rates in the future. The less information, the riskier these deployments are; the riskier they are, the more costly they are to make — which is why they may not be made at all. In addition, lack of information introduces unnecessary market volatility, as investors and businesses have to buy or sell securities — or even cancel contemplated transactions — because facts about the Fed’s policies have now come to light that show investors or businesses were operating on the wrong assumptions. This volatility is also costly for the economy.”
Congress has not yet voted on the FORM Act, and it is unknown whether it has the ability to pass. Nevertheless, the conversation about financial reform, and the role of the Fed — who has not always acted independently in recent years — is worthwhile.