- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

A Senate panel endorsed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke for a second four-year term Thursday, setting up a final vote in the full Senate, which is expected to confirm his renomination in the coming weeks.

The Senate banking committee voted 16-7 to send Mr. Bernanke’s nomination to the full Senate. Six Republicans and one Democrat voted against the chairman’s renomination.

Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd said Mr. Bernanke has exhibited “very wise leadership that benefited our nation” and helped avert an economic meltdown.

“Had he and others not acted … we’d be looking at a very, very different and far more dire situation for our nation that is otherwise the case,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

But Mr. Dodd added that some of the criticisms directed at the nation’s central banker by his Senate colleagues “have merit.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the lone Democratic dissenter, said Mr. Bernanke failed to take the precautionary steps that could have averted or mitigated last year’s near-collapse of the nation’s financial system.

“Following the collapse of our economy, it is apparent that Dr. Bernanke had not changed his overall approach of prioritizing Wall Street over American families,” Mr. Merkley said.

The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, who voted against Mr. Bernanke’s nomination, said the Federal Reserve has ignored problems in the banking and housing industries that led to an alarming rise in mortgage foreclosures. When the Fed chairman did act, the Alabama lawmaker said the response was “ad hoc and piecemeal.”

“I lack confidence in what little planning for the future [Mr. Bernanke] has articulated,” Mr. Shelby said.

The Fed chairman’s loudest critic on the panel, Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, said Mr. Bernanke was too beholden to “his fat-cat buddies on Wall Street.”

“While I do believe Ben Bernanke is a very good human being, he doesn’t have a clue what he is doing as chairman of the Federal Reserve,” said Mr. Bunning, who voted against Mr. Bernanke.

Mr. Bunning has said he would seek to stop the Senate from confirming Mr. Bernanke through a “hold” procedure. The 100-member Senate would need 60 votes - not the usual 50 - to override the block and move forward with a final vote on the nomination.

Another Bernanke critic, Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who isn’t a member of the banking panel, also said he would place a hold on the chairman’s renomination.

Although the maneuver is not expected to derail Mr. Bernanke’s confirmation, it could slow down the process.

His term expires at the end of January. A full Senate vote on his nomination is not expected until after the December holiday break.

Others voting against Mr. Bernanke were Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, David Vitter of Louisiana, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Micheal D. Crapo of Idaho.

President George W. Bush four years ago nominated Mr. Bernanke, a former Princeton University professor, to succeed the retiring Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. President Obama announced Mr. Bernanke’s reappointment in August.

Yet Mr. Bernanke has significant support on Wall Street and elsewhere.

“If you accept the premise that the whole economy was in real, mortal danger during this crisis - as many believe who observed it up close - then instead of these punishing hearings, perhaps Congress should have sent Bernanke some flowers and a nice thank-you card,” said Travis Larson, a spokesman for Financial Dynamics, a public affairs firm that serves many financial institutions.

Time magazine this week named Mr. Bernanke its Person of the Year, praising his “creative leadership” that “helped ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression.”

Foreign Policy magazine also this month placed Mr. Bernanke at the head of its Top 100 Global Thinkers, saying that his handling of the economic crisis that included the publicly unpopular $700 billion Wall Street bailout “is certainly one of the greatest intellectual feats of recent years.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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