Tony Fratto: Big Ben's Bell
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, in his testimony to Congress yesterday, sounded the alarm bell for political leaders to put in place a plan to restore balance to the nation's fiscal books.
His words, while blunt enough, were delivered in his usual tempered style:
"Congress and the administration face formidable near-term challenges that must be addressed," said Big Ben.
One can imagine the congressional head-nodding in the House Budget Committee hearing. ("Yes...'formidable'...'must be addressed'...")
Big Ben continued, "Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth."
And a sigh of relief is breathed from members of Congress as the phrase "longer term" echoes through the room. ("Thank goodness...I'm safe for the next election...")
But members of Congress are mistaken if they think the Chairman's warning signified anything short of a clear and present danger to the U.S. economy - and one that could have real implications for the 2010 mid-term elections.
While fiscal deficits will be frighteningly high over the next two years, buyers of U.S. debt are concerned about long-term financing of that debt today.
The lack of a credible plan (or even an incredible plan) by Congress and the Obama Administration to significantly reduce fiscal deficits has real-time consequences for the economy - stoking inflation fears and impacting interest rates, the value of the U.S. dollar, and commodity prices.
And these consequences, if fully borne out, will be apparent to American voters well before the mid-term elections.
Members of Congress should not ask for whom Big Ben's bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
Tony Fratto is a CNBC on-air contributor and most recently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for the Bush Administration.