Business

The most important man in Washington may not be Trump or Biden

Posted October 7, 2020 9:58 a.m. EDT

— President Trump or Joe Biden will need to make an incredibly important decision sometime in 2021 that will help determine whether the economy can continue to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. They need to decide whether or not to reappoint Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

Trump's decision to halt stimulus talks Tuesday -- before backtracking a bit -- shows that investors, consumers and businesses may not be able to rely on the White House and Congress for more financial assistance. But Powell and the Fed have been doing all they can to prop up the economy.

The Fed quickly lowered rates to zero in March and has since launched trillions of dollars worth of lending programs.

Powell's swift actions have won him praise from many economists and investing experts on Wall Street -- and is a key reason why there are hopes that Biden or Trump will nominate him for a second stint as Fed chair. His current four-year term is set to expire in February 2022.

"Powell should get a second term if he wants it. He deserves credit for the speed and magnitude of the Fed's response to Covid-19," said Larry Adam, chief investment officer of Raymond James.

Questions about Powell and the future of the Fed weren't brought up in the presidential debate last week and spokespeople for both candidates did not have a comment for CNN Business about whether or not they would reappoint Powell to a second term as Fed chair.

Trump had been critical of Powell before the pandemic for not moving quickly enough to lower rates but has since praised the Fed chief's response to Covid-19.

Biden has not commented specifically on Powell's future. But Biden has already tweeted that he'd ask Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to stay on and help manage the response to the pandemic if he is elected, so Biden may feel the same way about Powell and his managing of the economic response to coronavirus.

"Powell has done a good job. He has been very decisive and has responded quickly with no tentativeness," said George Calhoun, professor of quantitative finance at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

"When the crisis hit, Powell went all out and opened the spigots. I'm not sure what rational would be to have someone totally different at the Fed. Monetary policy has been effective," Calhoun added.

Biden's former boss was faced with a similar decision after the 2008 election. President Obama decided to stick with Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, who was first appointed by President George W, Bush, and nominated him for a second term in August 2009 so he could continue to lead the Fed's response to the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession.

"If Trump were to win, Powell should be the pick and Biden probably would want to maintain continuity. We need rates lower for longer," Adam said.

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