THE RACE: Obama can't count on Fed for help

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By TOM RAUM, Associated Press

President Barack Obama probably shouldn't look to the Federal Reserve for political help in this election year.

Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the central bank has already done lots to rouse the stubbornly sluggish economy upon which Obama's second-term fate hangs.

This week it extended a program to drive down long-term rates and said it will do more if necessary to spur job growth.

But despite Bernanke's insistence that the Fed's not out of ammunition, many economists and Fed watchers say its arsenal is down to mostly blanks and slingshots.

The Fed already has kept a key short-term interest rate near zero for over three years and flooded financial markets with hundreds of billions in cash.

It values its independence and separation from politics. But it's still a creature of Congress whose members are appointed by the president.

Fed chairmen have long been accused of — or credited with — influencing elections with monetary policy.

Democrats still blame Fed Chairman Arthur Burns for over-stimulating the economy in 1972 to help Richard Nixon's re-election. President George H. W. Bush blamed his 1992 defeat, in part, on tight money policies of Chairman Alan Greenspan, first appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Later, Greenspan's more market-friendly policies helped the booming economy of the late 1990s — aiding President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election.

Bernanke has been rebuked by Republicans who say his easy-money policies will yield big-time inflation. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney says he wouldn't reappoint him.

"Our job is to do the right thing for the economy irrespective of politics," Bernanke says.

Yet presidential politics hover everywhere. If nothing else, they make the Fed's job that much harder in election years.

Romney spoke Thursday to a Hispanic organization in central Florida. Obama addresses the same group Friday as both candidates court the nation's fastest-growing bloc of voters.

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