Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke won Senate confirmation to a second term atop the nation's central bank Thursday. First he had to clear a key procedural vote earlier in the day that prevented a Republican filibuster. In the final confirmation tally, lawmakers supported Bernanke by a margin of 70 to 30.
Bernanke's term was set to expire Sunday, and the uncertainty regarding his future had weighed on equity markets. No nominee for the Fed chair has been rejected by the Senate. The closest vote came in 1983 when Paul Volcker won a second term by a vote of 84-16.
But Bernanke's opponents didn't go down without a fight, with withering criticism coming from both sides of the aisle. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, excoriated Bernanke, saying the fed chief dithered in the early, critical months of the financial crisis.
"Asleep at the Switch"
"In the six months between the failure of Bear Stearns and Lehman, the Federal Reserve did very little to prevent either another taxpayer bailout or a sudden and disorderly collapse of Lehman, even though its problems were well known," Shelby said. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, said Bernanke "was asleep at the switch while Wall Street became a gambling casino."
Bernanke has come under increasing pressure from the public and lawmakers over his support of the Wall Street bailouts, especially the $180 billion in taxpayer funds that went to save American International Group (AIG).
Last week's election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's former Massachusetts Senate seat led liberal Democrats to discuss blocking the vote on Bernanke's nomination to a second term. As the momentum built to block the vote, Senate leaders weren't sure they would have enough votes to prevent a filibuster. The Senate needed 60 votes, and with a number of Democrats planning to vote no, Majority Leader Harry Reid had to seek help from Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to be sure he could get the votes necessary to prevent a filibuster.
The tide turned in Bernanke's favor when Sen. Reid and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) declared they would support the nomination on Friday. On Wednesday, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would vote to confirm Bernanke, becoming the 53rd lawmaker to publicly declare support for the fed chief. Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have been Bernanke's two biggest supporters.
Here's hoping Bernanke's next four years as Fed chief are a lot less tumultuous than the first four.
Source: By DAN BURROWS