Fox Business Undercard Debate: Republicans Go After the Federal Reserve

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie listens as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the Republican undercard debate in Milwaukee Tuesday. Darren Hauck/REUTERS

It's still the economy, stupid. Or at least the Republicans hope so.

At Tuesday's Fox Business Network undercard debate, the candidates painted a dour picture of Barack Obama's economic policies, repeatedly accusing the Federal Reserve of being in league with "the establishment" and suggesting some unorthodox ways to make the agency less political.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was perhaps the most vocal, arguing that the Fed has deliberately manipulated interest rates in order to keep the cost of borrowing down and make the economy look better than it is. Before the debate, Christie said that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had "cooked up" federal unemployment numbers in order to paint a favorable picture of Obama's performance.

Some Republicans have suggested giving Congress oversight over the Fed, which has historically been an independent institution. The debate moderators suggested that this might make the national bank political, but former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee echoed Christie in saying that the Fed is already as political as it can possibly be.

"The Fed has manipulated the dollar so that it doesn't have a standard," Huckabee said. His fix for the bank would be to "tie the monetary standard to something that makes sense." In 2012, candidate Ron Paul received significant attention for suggesting that the dollar be tied to a gold standard.

In this Republican primary, bashing the establishment has won the most applause lines, and Tuesday's debate was no different. Of course, most mainstream economists on both the left and right would argue that federal agencies don't manipulate statistics for political purposes. But most mainstream economists also don't run for president.