WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote for Thursday that would clear the path to a second term for Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The move comes after Senate leaders and the White House were caught off guard last week by mounting bipartisan opposition to another four-year term for Bernanke.
A representative for Sen. Reid would not comment on how many lawmakers might support the cloture vote on Thursday. But it is unlikely that the Nevada Democrat would schedule the vote without confidence that at least 60 lawmakers would support it.
The cloture vote is needed to overcome filibuster threats from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other Senators who have placed a hold on Bernanke’s nomination. Once the cloture vote passes, a simple majority is needed to confirm Bernanke.
Nominees to lead the Fed rarely cause a stir on Capitol Hill; the Senate signed off on Bernanke’s first nomination by a voice vote. But in the aftermath of the financial crisis, lawmakers from both parties have seen their vote on Bernanke’s second term as a way of identifying with populist anxiety about the economy.
Bernanke has generally received positive reviews for his management of the banking system and economy during the worst moments of the financial crisis. But he has been criticized for supporting low interest rates a decade ago and ignoring consumer protection and supervisory issues until the crisis was in full swing.
On Friday, Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said they would oppose Bernanke. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., voted against letting Bernanke’s nomination leave the Senate Banking Committee and he will not support him on the floor.
The defections forced top administration officials, including President Obama, to call on lawmakers over the weekend to support Bernanke. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin invited Bernanke to his office on Capitol Hill Monday and later told reporters he would support his nomination.
Still, the Democratic opposition has made Republican support vital to Bernanke’s success. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not committed to supporting Bernanke but told reporters Tuesday that the Fed chief “is going to be confirmed and going to be confirmed on a bipartisan basis.”
Sen. Richard Shelby, the top GOP member on Senate Banking, reiterated his opposition to Bernanke in a CNBC interview on Tuesday.
Lawmakers are leaving little time to spare as they consider Bernanke’s nomination; his current term expires on Sunday.