Senate panel endorses Bernanke for second term

A Senate panel endorsed Ben S. Bernanke on Thursday for another term as Federal Reserve chairman, clearing the way for a confirmation vote on the Senate floor early next year.

The Senate Banking Committee voted 16 to 7 to send to the full Senate Bernanke’s nomination for a second four-year term when his current one ends Jan. 31. Although he appears likely to be confirmed, there could be more than a few “no” votes from members of both parties who are dissatisfied with the state of the economy and Bernanke’s stewardship of the Fed.

Only four of 10 Republicans voted in favor of Bernanke, who is a Republican first appointed by President Bush. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the panel, was one of the “no” votes.

Twelve of 13 Democrats voted in support of Bernanke, arguing that whatever his mistakes, Bernanke moved aggressively to prevent a much worse outcome for the economy.


Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was the one Democratic “no” vote.

The sometimes tense discussion Thursday foreshadowed what looks to be the most controversial confirmation debate for a Fed chairman since at least the early 1980s, when Paul Volcker was reappointed amid a deep recession.

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he would place a hold on the nomination, a procedural move that means Bernanke will need 60 votes to be confirmed.

The timing will be tight. The Senate returns to session Jan. 19, and if Bernanke is not confirmed by Jan. 31, then Fed Vice Chairman Donald L. Kohn would take over as acting chairman, though Bernanke could remain on the Fed board of governors pending confirmation.

Even supporters of Bernanke had plenty of criticism of the Fed chairman. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the committee chairman, assailed him for regulatory failures at the central bank that contributed to the current crisis, but voted for him, he said, because of his creative and aggressive actions to contain the financial crisis over the last two years.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who also voted for confirmation, asked rhetorically, “Does he need to quit trying to expand the empire of the Fed? Absolutely.”

The most vehement criticism came from Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a longtime Fed critic, who launched a scathing attack. Noting that Bernanke was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year this week, Bunning pointed out that past recipients included Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin (twice), Yasser Arafat, Vladimir Putin and Richard Nixon (twice).

Irwin writes for the Washington Post.