Not many tools left for Geithner and Bernanke to stave off next crisis

Today, Geithner’s options are constrained by gridlock in Congress. Any fresh proposals to invigorate the economy would face Republican skepticism. And instead of devoting his full attention to the country’s flagging economic recovery and mounting threats from Europe, Geithner spent much of the last few months planning for the possibility Congress would not raise the federal debt limit, confronting the government with default. He also was focused on negotiations among Democrats and Republicans over a deal to tame the debt…

Bernanke, 57, meanwhile, has been pushing the Fed to take a series of steps over the past three years to spur economic growth. But he has exhausted the Fed’s usual tools — for instance, lowering interest rates, which are now near zero — and is facing new opposition from members of the Fed’s policymaking committee who are worried about the risk of inflation or new financial bubbles…

Lawrence Summers, who resigned late last this year as the director of Obama’s National Economic Council, said the government’s “tool chest is emptier than it was a few years ago.” But he added that “government can still very much be a potent force.”