Call it a moment of rare bipartisanship on Capitol Hill — and a deeply troublesome sign for Barack Obama’s ability to get anything done in Congress this year. Just a few weeks removed from being hailed as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Ben Bernanke can’t get a vote for confirmation in another term as Fed chair — and if he did, he may not like the results:
Amidst the voter anger at Wall Street and Washington, D.C., ABC News has learned that the Senate Democratic leadership isn’t sure there are enough votes to re-confirm Ben Bernanke for another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. …
“The American people are disgusted with the greed and recklessness of Wall Street,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in an interview with The Associated Press last month. “People are asking, ‘Why didn’t the Fed intervene at the appropriate time to stop the casino-type activities of large financial companies?'”
Sanders, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., have all put holds on Bernanke’s nomination, requiring 60 votes to proceed to a vote.
Bernanke got a less-than-rousing endorsement from the Senate Banking Committee in December as Time feted him, getting a 16-7 approval for a floor vote in the Senate. While a filibuster could get applied to Bernanke, that doesn’t appear to be what’s worrying Reid. He’s more worried about a revolt on his Left than obstructionism on the Right:
Roll Call reported this week that at the Senate Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday, “according to senators, liberals spoke out against confirming Bernanke for a second term. Those liberals tried to make the case that the White House needs to put in place fresh economic advisers to focus on ‘Main Street’ issues like unemployment rather than Wall Street concerns. Moderates were more reserved, senators said, but have similarly withheld their support for Bernanke.”
Bernanke doesn’t deserve the laudatory credit given him by Time, but he doesn’t deserve all of the blame heaped on him by Senate Democrats. In fact, a good deal of that blame belongs squarely on their shoulders, first for the conditions that led to the collapse and the policies adopted afterward. After all, it wasn’t Bernanke or his predecessor that demanded and then incentivized the subprime loan market to get people into homes they couldn’t afford. Bernanke didn’t tell Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy up all those loans and create securities from bad mortgages that wound up as crypto-junk bonds with the patina of federal guarantees. That blame falls squarely on Congresses from 1998 until 2007.
It appears that this is more than just Democrats playing CYA by making Bernanke the scapegoat. After losing the ultra-safe Massachusetts seat, they’re worried about the perception that they wasted a full year playing around with a health-care overhaul that no one likes while ignoring the fact that over 3.4 million jobs got incinerated. Congress and the White House both would like to pivot to economic policy, but neither seems capable of actually showing leadership on the agenda. Making Bernanke and Obama sweat for and through a confirmation vote sends a very clear message that in an election year, Democrats have to be seen as doing something — anything — on jobs.
If Obama can’t get 50 votes for Bernanke, he’s going to find 2010 a difficult slog indeed. But on the agenda-leadership front, Congressional Democrats would help themselves most by kicking Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer from their leadership positions and giving the gavel to someone who can bring the agenda back to a centrist position that could win them some Republican support — and political cover.
Update: Five Democrats have already publicly lined up against Bernanke, including Barbara Boxer — who voted for TARP:
Only five Democrats have publicly said they will oppose the newly in-jeopardy re-nomination of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. But word late this morning that Sen. Barbara Boxer is among them must be particularly troubling for Bernanke supporters.
Boxer is the first Democrat to oppose Bernanke who voted in favor of the Wall Street bailout – TARP – which he engineered late in 2008. …
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, is Bernanke’s chief antagonist in the Senate and was also the most vocal TARP opponent among the Democratic caucus.
Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Jeff Merkley of Oregon have also indicated they will vote against him. Merkley was the lone Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee to oppose Bernanke’s nomination when the panel voted in December.
Sens. Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer made their announcements this morning.
Who would get the nod if Bernanke fails? Marc Ambinder suggested Larry Summers on his Twitter feed. What about Tim Geithner, the former NY Fed chief?