Senate aiming to vote on Fed nominees before Memorial Day


(L-R) Former Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, former U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard and Federal Reserve Board of Governors member Jerome Powell. (Reuters/Baz Ratner/Sergei Karpukhin/Kevin Lamarque/Files)

Senate Democratic leaders are actively working to bring a floor vote on President Obama's nominees to the Federal Reserve before Memorial Day, according to a senior aide.

The three nominees -- famed economist Stanley Fischer, former Treasury official Lael Brainard, and sitting Fed Gov. Jerome Powell -- cleared a key hurdle Tuesday morning when they were unanimously approved in a voice vote by the Senate banking committee. The timing of a confirmation vote is particularly delicate because the Fed will be down to just three sitting members on its powerful board of governors by the end of next month.

Democratic leaders are willing to push for a vote on the nominees over the next few weeks even if it means forgoing Republican support, according to the aide -- though the unanimous support they received in committee suggests at least some GOP senators will back their confirmation. Democrats would also like to have the nominees approved in time for the Fed's policy meeting in June. That means confirmation is likely before Memorial Day, the aide said.

The Fed has been working without a full bench for months even as it embarked on the phaseout of its trillion-dollar economic stimulus program. There are seven seats on the board of governors, with only four now occupied. The ranks will shrink again next month when board member and Harvard economist Jeremy Stein steps down.

The high number of vacancies does not technically impede the Fed’s ability to carry out its duties. Under a 2003 policy amendment, a majority of members in office can constitute a quorum when there are fewer than five sitting governors. (When there are five or more sitting members, four are needed to reach a quorum.) But the empty seats do deprive the Fed of brain power as it begins the tricky process of unwinding the unconventional monetary policies established in the wake of the financial crisis.

Lori Montgomery covers U.S. economic policy and the federal budget, focusing on efforts to tame the national debt.
Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.
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