Bernanke’s Confirmation Gaining Support

BY Jason M. Breslow  January 25, 2010 at 11:25 AM EST

Ben Bernanke’s chances of winning a second term as Federal Reserve chairman are looking up Monday after a White House push over the weekend to reverse rising populist sentiment against his confirmation.

“He’s going to have bipartisan support in the Senate and I would anticipate he’d be confirmed,” the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

McConnell’s prediction came just two days after a pair of prominent Senate Democrats, Barbara Boxer of California and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, came out against the nomination. Stocks tumbled on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping more than 200 points to its lowest close since November.

“That prompted an all-hands effort by the administration to change the momentum in his favor,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Not only did the president himself make phone calls to key senators over the weekend, according to the WSJ, so too did Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House economic coordinator Lawrence Summers and Bernanke himself.

As of Monday, Bernanke, who needs 60 votes in the Senate to win confirmation, had the support of 35 Senators, with 17 opposed, according to a tally by Dow Jones Newswires. More Senators came out in support of Bernanke this morning, including Dianne Feinstein of California and Max Baucus of Montana.

The chamber is expected to vote on Bernanke before his term ends on January 31.

Bernanke’s nomination has struggled, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Politico, because the nation is “in a moment where people are incredibly angry and frustrated by the damage this crisis caused.”

That sentiment has only heightened in the aftermath of last week’s stunning G.O.P. upset in the Massachusetts Senate race. Indeed, as David Wessel, economics editor of the WSJ, told the NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, “I think that Ben Bernanke has become a lightning rod for the public anger that Wall Street got bailed out and Main Street didn’t.”

MIT’s Simon Johnson is seeking change at the Fed. “Bernanke is an airline pilot who pulled off a miraculous landing,” he writes, “but didn’t do his preflight checks and doesn’t show any sign of being more careful in the future.” His solution: Paul Krugman for the Fed.

For his part, Paul Krugman says he’s “agonizing” over whether Bernanke should win a second term. On the one hand, he writes, “Ben Bernanke is a great economist, whose work on monetary economics has been a crucial guide to action in this crisis.” On the other hand, “he completely failed to see the trouble building as the housing bubble inflated” and “has seemed out of touch with the severe problems that remain.”

In the end, Krugman says he favors Bernanke’s reconfirmation, “but only because rejecting him could make the Fed’s policies worse, not better.”