Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bernanke Confirmation Vote in Senate

Today the Senate voted to confirm the renewal of Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The key vote was the first one, for cloture (to end debate). Sixty votes in favor were needed for that one, whereas only 50 were needed for his actual re-confirmation. The nomination had been held up for weeks by various Senators who were opposed to Bernanke's continuing in the job. In response, there was an effort by some in the Senate (from what I heard, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire) to get past the cloture vote, at least, to relieve anxiety in the markets.

My point of the post is not on the merits of Bernanke's retention in the job. There are two main points of reference for that: those who look backwards and either approve or disapprove of what was done to rescue the banks and other companies and Bernanke's role in that, along with his role in the lax regulation of financial institutions that helped lead to the crisis; while those who look forwards might have a positive or negative point of view on Bernanke's monetary policy (he might be less inclined to continue the Fed's policy of easy money than other possible appointees) or his stance toward the Fed's role in future regulation. I would say, along with President Obama, that he has done a good enough job to continue on--in particular, his deep knowledge of the Great Depression of the '30's was very relevant to his efforts to prevent its recurrence in these days.

Instead, I'm more interested in the fact that voting, for once, was not split on partisan lines, and secondly, that 77 Senators voted for cloture, but only 70 voted for his actual confirmation.* That means that seven Senators voted to end debate and move on, though they did not favor Bernanke's confirmation. This is a positive sign, one that should be encouraged. It means that some Senators are willing to consider that, while they may not get their way (and, without doubt, they knew that cloture was going to guarantee confirmation), they would not support a filibuster--one which might have become very harmful to our fragile economy (Bernanke's term was due to end this Sunday).

I would strongly support the Senate changing its filibuster rules (I like Tom Udall's motion to allow each Congress to set its rules by majority vote), but if it is not to be changed, it must stop being abused. It is not appropriate to try to filibuster every bill that one opposes; it should be a different matter whether to continue debate or to approve a motion.

So, I commend those seven Senators: Barbara Boxer (CA), Byron Dorgan (ND), Al Franken (MN), Tom Harkin (IA), Edward Kaufman (DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and George LeMieux (FL). All but LeMieux are Democrats; LeMieux and Kaufman--who were interim appointments--along with Dorgan, are "lame ducks"--Senators who will not be returning after this session of Congress (so, presumably, they are ones with little motivation for their votes beyond the public interest). Even more, I commend the nuanced and supportive vote strategies of Boxer, Franken, Harkin, and Whitehouse--each are very good Senators, in my view.

* The 70-30 vote for confirmation was 47-11 for Democrats, 22-18 for Republicans, and 1-1 for Independents, and the 77-23 for cloture was 53-5 for Democrats, 23-17 for Republicans, and 1-1 for Independents (Sanders against both). Note that newly-elected Scott Brown of Massachusetts is not yet in place.

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