You've really got a hold on him
Bernie Sanders has placed a hold on Ben Bernanke's renomination. “If he’s the smartest guy in the world," Sanders asked, "why didn’t he do anything to prevent us from sinking into this disaster that Wall Street caused and which he was a part of?"
It's not a bad question. But it's not likely to receive much of an answer. As CQ notes, this isn't the first time a hold has been placed on the renomination of a Fed chairman. "In 1996, Alan Greenspan faced a hold from several Democratic senators — led by Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa — after he was nominated to a third term. The senators argued that Greenspan was too quick to raise interest rates in the fight against inflation." They gave up the hold in return for "extended debate time on the nomination." Greenspan was confirmed.
In practice, the hold is a one-man filibuster. If Bernanke's supporters can round up 60 votes, they can break it. But the politics here might be more uncertain than meets the eye. The hold probably delays Bernanke's renomination through to 2010. That puts it in the middle, or right after, a hard vote on health-care reform. And given the level of anti-bailout fury in the country, and the fact that Tim Geithner doesn't need to be reconfirmed before the Senate anytime soon, Bernanke may be the sole opportunity a lot of these guys have to make a public show of fury.
That doesn't mean Bernanke's nomination is in real trouble, if for no other reason than that the Senate isn't the House, and so there's less short-term political pressure. Nor is there any consensus about who would be a better Fed chairman than Bernanke. But though the possibility of a surprise here is slim, I think it's higher than zero.
Obligatory Senate procedural rant: All that said, holds are a noxious practice and we should get rid of them.
Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP.
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