Populist ire softens ahead of Bernanke confirmation vote

By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

The outlook for Ben S. Bernanke's confirmation to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman brightened over the weekend, as the Obama administration and key senators expressed confidence in his prospects.

The Fed chairman's confirmation for another four-year term seemed all but assured a few days ago. But late last week, it was thrown into doubt as key Democratic senators said they would vote against him, and as others wavered. It was part of a populist backlash after a surprising Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

The White House launched a furious campaign over the weekend to shore up support, fearing that a defeat would undermine the president's credibility and throw into question how much sway he has with his party. Bernanke's supporters are convinced that a rejection in the Senate would cause palpitations in financial markets, which declined sharply on Friday when confirmation came into question.

"We believe he will be confirmed," said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, on "Fox News Sunday." He argued that the best way to prevent further stock market tremors "is to support Ben Bernanke for a second term."

Republicans, meanwhile, are playing a game of rope-a-dope. Many want confirmation for Bernanke -- a Republican first appointed by President George W. Bush -- preferring him over other candidates Obama might consider. But few are committing their votes, in an attempt to force Democratic leaders to gin up as much support as possible from their side of the aisle.

"He's going to have bipartisan support in the Senate, and I would anticipate he'd be confirmed," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on "Meet the Press," though he would not say how he will vote. Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) was similarly evasive on his own voting plans on "Face the Nation."

Bernanke needs 60 Senate votes to break a procedural delay, and 51 to be confirmed.

He has been praised widely for his aggressive efforts to combat the economic downturn. But he has also been blamed for regulatory failures that helped cause the crisis, and helped engineer the wildly unpopular financial bailouts.

The stock markets fell more than 2 percent on Friday after his confirmation came into question. Efforts by the Obama administration to salvage the nomination seem to be working, though the situation remains fluid.

On Saturday, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) issued a release saying they are confident Bernanke will be confirmed. Majority Whip Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the same later Saturday.

A vote is planned for this week. If Bernanke is not confirmed by Sunday, the end of his current term, Fed Vice Chairman Donald L. Kohn likely would become interim chairman pending confirmation.

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