The honeymoon between President Clinton and the Federal Reserve appears to be over, and while the relationship may have been sweet for 11 months, it is about to take an unpleasant turn.

The beginning of the end came with bickering over Clinton's proposal to have just one agency regulate the nation's banks, a move that would take away some of the Federal Reserve's power. And now it seems Clinton could sue for divorce if the central bank raises interest rates early next year to fight inflation, as some rumblings from within the Fed suggest.The White House is delighted that the economy is finally climbing out of the doldrums, and the last thing it wants is the Fed to step in and slow the economic advance by raising interest rates.

But the Fed has its concerns, too: If the economy continues to boom, low interest rates could foster a surge in inflation - an unappealing economic specter that could be lurking just around the corner.

Last week, Clinton was so worried that the Fed might sabotage his promise of stronger growth that he engaged in some unusually outspoken jawboning, saying there was no indication that inflation was returning.

He has also hinted that if the Fed raises rates, he will support a measure by Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Texas, to assert more political control over the Fed by giving the president, rather than private bankers, the power to name the presidents of its 12 regional banks. Those presidents hold five of the 12 seats on the Fed's main policymaking committee, and the Federal Reserve Board's seven governors hold the rest.

To Fed officials, the Gonzalez plan is a blatant attempt to cripple their independence.

Clinton fears that if the Fed raises short-term rates it will weaken the interest-sensitive sectors that are the only engines of growth: housing, business investment and big-ticket durable items, like cars.

But the worry and interference from the White House are unwarranted and unnecessary. The Fed knows best.

Many economists have predicted the Fed could aggressively push up its main short-term rate, currently 3 percent, to 3.75 percent by April and 4.5 percent by next December. But the truth is, the Fed is not likely to do anything that will harm the economy and its rebound.

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While Clinton's protestations about the evils of higher interest rates are grounded in truth, he is totally ignoring the havoc that can be caused by uncontrolled inflation. Yet Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who has considerably more experience in dealing with the economy, believes that if he waits until he sees the whites of the eyes of inflation, it will be too late.

His case to the White House is that a stitch in time saves nine.

The truth is the Fed is not going to raise interest rates as if there is no tomorrow. In fact, it's likely Greenspan will act cautiously - and only after there is a fairly strong sign of acceleration in inflationary pressures.

In the meantime, the White House should stop rattling sabers and sit back and reap the benefits of an economy that shows every sign of getting stronger.

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