At the end of last week, Ben Bernanke’s nomination for a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve appeared to be in trouble. By one count, 17 senators, representing both parties, were poised to vote against him.
That was well short of the 41 needed to block his name from coming to a vote, but it was a clear sign of trouble, portending a fight that would do nothing except rattle already shaky financial markets. Fortunately, having peered into that particular abyss, the senators wisely pulled back from it.
There’s no reason Bernanke can’t be confirmed by the end of the week and every reason he should. His term expires Sunday. If the vote is delayed, he would remain on the Fed board but be replaced by an acting chairman, with the economic uncertainty inflicting a heavy cost on Wall Street, world markets and the U.S. dollar.
As much as anyone in government or finance, Bernanke kept the recession from becoming a full-fledged depression. It wasn’t always pretty. But think back to 2008 when, in rapid order, he won passage of the much-derided $700 billion bailout, rescued AIG and Bear Stearns, pushed Bank of America into buying Merrill Lynch, let Lehman Brothers go under and pumped over a trillion dollars into the frozen credit markets. From the calm, considered standpoint of hindsight, a lot of those steps may turn out to have been wasteful and even wrong, but they worked.
He should be confirmed quickly. We have too much invested in his education as our central banker.