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Powell at a congressional hearing in September. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said on Thursday the pandemic-hit economy will recover at a slower pace absent additional stimulus from Congress.

Why it matters: With Congress still gridlocked over another stimulus package — and pending results of the presidential election that put the timing of another package more in limbo — the Fed is facing questions about what more it can do to prevent the economy from backsliding as coronavirus cases surge.

What they're saying: "Fiscal policy can do what we can't, which is to replace lost incomes for people who are out of work," Powell told reporters in response to a question about whether the delay of congressional stimulus will force the Fed to do more.

  • Powell also said that "we'll have a stronger [economic] recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support" — but stopped short of saying how much support is necessary.
  • Powell reiterated that the Fed is not out of ammo — but its policies are a mismatch for the demands of the crisis. "We have no doubt in the power of the things that we've already done, or the things that we may or may do in the future," Powell said.

Details: Powell said the Fed for now would continue to purchase at least $120 billion worth of government bonds per month, although disruptions in financial markets that prompted the buying have eased.

  • The bond-buying program is "another very important piece of the accommodative policy stance that we have," Powell said.

Where it stands: In the policy statement released ahead of the news conference, the Fed said, "economic activity and employment have continued to recover but remain well below their levels at the beginning of the year."

  • Powell noted the rise in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and Europe as "particularly concerning."

Catch up quick: Earlier this year, the Fed launched a slew of programs, backstopped by the Treasury Department, in an attempt to stimulate the economy and shore up key funding markets that were shaken when the virus took hold.

  • There's been little demand from state and local entities for a lending facility geared to them, as well as muted uptake for a program meant to lend to small and mid-sized businesses. (The Fed broadened eligibility for its so-called "Main Street Lending Program" last week.)
  • Powell says the Fed has not decided whether these facilities will be extended beyond their expiration at the end of the year.

Of note: Powell said the election "comes up now and again but is not at all a central focus" of the Fed's policy meeting. He wouldn't comment on the possibility of a contested election and whether it could have an impact on the economy.

  • "I'm very reluctant, as you will imagine, to comment on the election directly, indirectly at all, other than just to say that it's a good time to take a step back and let the institutions of our democracy do their jobs," Powell said.

Go deeper

Emergency Fed lending programs to expire under Mnuchin

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photo: Caroline Brehman-Pool via Getty

The Treasury Department will not extend several Federal Reserve lending programs set to expire by year's end that were put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: There is concern that pulling the plug on these loan programs will negatively impact the still-fragile economy. Eliminating the programs could hobble the Fed and make it harder to revive similar assistance under a new Congress.

Trump is on an island

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Most of President Trump's closest advisers have completely distanced themselves from his legal effort and are avoiding his lawyers to avoid being swept into their courtroom dramas.

Why it matters: Some of the president's advisers act like they think he can still overturn the election results — because they remain on the payroll and don't have another choice. But talk to them privately, and many say Rudy Giuliani and his team are on a dead-end path.

Biden transition names first Cabinet nominees

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday unveiled his nominations for top national security positions in his administration, tapping former secretary of state John Kerry as his climate czar and former deputy national security adviser Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.

Why it matters: Haines, if confirmed, would make history as the first woman to oversee the U.S. intelligence community. Biden also plans to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas to become the first Latino secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.