Will Fed chief Ben Bernanke be the latest victim of the Scott Brown revolution?
When President Bush nominated Ben S. Bernanke to be chairman of the Federal Reserve in 2006, the economist who had made a specialty of studying the Great Depression was such a popular choice that he was confirmed on a voice vote. By the time President Obama nominated him to a second term last August, Wall Street had cratered, the government had infused billions of dollars into the private sector, and Americans were losing jobs at a record pace. Still, Bernanke was expected to be reconfirmed, if with a tighter margin.
But that was before Republican Scott Brown threw a bomb into Senate politics by upsetting Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, casting himself as a candidate against Washington's big-spending, out-of-touch ways.
Now, with senators scurrying to show themselves as populists railing against those fat-cats in D.C.,and with the public increasingly angry about the bailout of "too big to fail" banks that cost the rest of the country jobs, homes and pride. Bernanke's nomination is in trouble.
From the left, Vermont's independent senator Bernie Sanders is leading the charge to deny Bernanke a second term. "The American people are disgusted with the greed and recklessness of Wall Street," he recently told the Associated Press. "People are asking, 'Why didn't the Fed intervene at the appropriate time to stop the casino-type activities of large financial companies?'"
From the right, several senators -- including South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint, the one who said healthcare reform would be Obama's Waterloo -- have put holds on the nomination, requiring 60 votes to bring it to the floor.
With Bernanke's term to expire Jan. 31, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had to delay the vote at least until next week. Even Reid, himself one of the most vulnerable Democrats in this year's elections, sounded the populist note after meeting with the Fed chairman this week. "The American people expect our economic leaders to keep Wall Street honest and level the playing field for middle-class families," he said. "As the Senate prepares to take up Chairman Bernanke's nomination, I look forward to hearing more from him about how he intends to address these issues.”
The White House today embraced Bernanke, saying he was the right man for the job. "The president has a great deal of confidence in what Chairman Bernanke did to bring our economy back from the brink and continues to think that he is the best person for the job and will be confirmed by the United States Senate," White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said.
But politicians have never been known as profiles in courage. With Democrats clamoring for the Obama administration to show a sharp pivot from Wall Street, Bernanke could be the fall guy.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photo: Federal Reserve chief Ben S. Bernanke and President Obama. Credit: Reuters