For the first time in years, the Federal Reserve Board will be at full strength, as the Senate finally confirmed two nominees today, with each receiving no less than 70 votes.
Substantively, this is probably important, although as Matt Yglesias says, it’s not really clear what either Jeremy Stein or Jerome Powell actually think about monetary policy.
Procedurally, what’s important now is that it’s about as clear as it can be that President Obama’s decision to defy Republicans and make some recess appointments was the right choice. After those appointments in January, Republicans vowed to retaliate by stalling even more than they had been. But that isn’t how it worked out.
Instead, while nominations still are not getting confirmed quickly, it’s very hard to argue that things are worse than they were last year. In fact, they seem to be somewhat better. After all, some previous attempts to fill Fed vacancies were entirely unsuccessful, so the six-month confirmation ordeal that Stein and Powell went through is, in the topsy-turvy world of the Senate, some kind of progress.
It also compares somewhat favorably with, for example, the nomination of Janet Yellen, who had a similar wait after her nomination to the Fed board in 2010, even though at that point the Democrats had a much larger majority. Note, too, the large number of executive branch nominations confirmed in late April.
Serious problems remain with getting nominations through the Senate, but it appears that the recess appointments helped. That’s what you would expect. If Republicans know that Obama is willing to use his constitutional authority to fill positions if they do not act, then the incentive for them to filibuster is significantly reduced. Indeed, there were reports last month that Republicans were dropping procedural roadblocks as part of a deal for Obama refraining from further recess appointments. They weren’t going to make that deal if they doubted his interest or willingness to act.
All of this only confirms what some of us have been saying since the early days of the administration. Yes, it's outrageous that Republicans have rejected the old norm of quickly confirming most nominations, to the extent that they’ve frequently delayed nominees who they didn’t even really oppose (judging from lopsided final votes when it finally came to that). However, Obama deserves a lot of blame for failing to fight hard for his nominees.