Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified Wednesday before Congress on the state of the economy, and, to paraphrase, the economic recovery has a long road ahead.
But although Big Ben managed most of the show, Congress added its own two cents for the first few minutes -- and legislators are not happy. Straight from the horse's mouth (i.e., that of Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee Kevin Brady), here are Congress' top three complaints about our economic recovery.
1. There's $3,604 Missing From Your Paycheck
Employment is an important economic indicator, but it tends to get extra-special congressional consideration. That's because citizens (read: "voters") love to hear that their employment odds are up, but neither Congress nor the Federal Reserve has managed to significantly move these numbers.
Although unemployment rates have dropped more than half a percentage point to 7.5 percent in the last year, Brady pointed to "red flags which we shouldn't ignore" -- red flags like the fact that 20 million Americans can't find full-time jobs, labor force participation recently hit a 35-year low, and an extra-sluggish recovery has left earnings lagging.
Since the economy began to rebuild four years ago, real disposable income for "Joe Six Pack" is up $745. According to Brady, Joe would have $3,604 more in his pocket by now if this post-recession period mirrored other recent recoveries.
2. Wall Street's Roaring, Main Street's on Food Stamps
Keeping things in real-person perspectives, Brady went head-to-head with Mr. Market's maxed-out metrics. In the same time that the S&P 500 Total Return Index has soared 75 percent, GDP growth estimates have dropped a full percentage point to 2.2 percent.
Eight million more Americans are now receiving food stamps, which now help feed 15 percent of the nation's citizens. In Brady's words, "There's no question that Wall Street is roaring, but Main Street continues to struggle."
Bank bailouts aside, it makes sense that stock markets would recover faster than other economic indicators. The stock market represents a liquid expectation of all current and future earnings of an economy, while jobs and GDP numbers are more directly linked to our past and present.
3. Bubbles Are Brewing
If you think Congress is furious now, just you wait. Brady says quantitative easing has "run out of steam," and he's ready for Bernanke to back away from the policy. Although Brady concedes that monetary measures may have had some role in our recovery, he says their heyday is over.
Low interest rates may have pulled the housing market out of its misery, but savers are beginning to feel the squeeze in their accounts' abysmal rates. And despite near-zero returns, American banks currently hold $1.9 trillion in excess reserves on their books.
In the long term, Brady worries that the Fed's actions today may be inflating new asset price bubbles for tomorrow.
While banks' books have their issues, the Federal Reserve has problems of its own. Since 2009, the Fed has purchased 24 percent of all newly issued Treasuries. Brady warns, "When growth picks up, and we hope it does, the Fed cannot raise its target rate for Federal funds and sell long-term Treasuries without recognizing substantial losses on its balance sheet, creating uncertainty."
So: What Now?
Brady and Bernanke are two chairs at opposite ends of the table. Brady finished up his opening remarks with "Today, we intend to explore the Fed's exit strategy and timing in detail" -- and Bernanke did anything but. His statement -- "Withdrawing policy accommodation at this juncture would be highly unlikely" -- helped move the Dow Jones Index up 155 points despite his hints at reduced bond-buying.
Chairman Bernanke has openly admitted to the flaws and failings of monetary policy, but it's still the most agreeable option available. And while a slow and steady recovery won't create 20 million jobs overnight, it's the best Ben can do.
You can follow Motley Fool contributor Justin Loiseau on Twitter @TMFJLo.