WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Reserve says it will maintain the pace of its $600 billion Treasury bond-buying program because a slowly improving economy with high unemployment still needs the support.

Fed policymakers say they'll continue to monitor the bond-buying program. They're leaving open the option of buying more bonds if the economy weakens, or less if it strengthens more than expected. The bond purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates, lift stock prices and encourage higher spending.

Critics contend that the program would do little to help the economy and could hurt it by unleashing inflation and speculative buying in assets like stocks.

A broad tax-cut plan is emerging in Congress and is easing pressure on the Fed to stimulate growth through its bond purchases.

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