The Federal Reserve pledged for the first time to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low at least through mid-2013 to revive a recovery that’s “considerably slower” than anticipated.

The Federal Open Market Committee is “prepared to employ” additional tools to bolster an economy hobbled by weak hiring and anemic household spending, it said in a statement today in Washington.

Three members of the committee dissented, preferring to maintain a previous pledge to keep rates low for an “extended period” without a specific timeframe. Stocks rallied and yields on 10-year Treasury notes briefly touched a record low.

The decision represents the biggest effort since November to spark the U.S. economy and revive confidence while stopping short of initiating a third round of large-scale asset purchases. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his colleagues acted after reports showed the economy was slowing and an unprecedented downgrade to the U.S. credit rating sent stocks tumbling from Sydney to New York.

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