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WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke faced mounting Senate opposition for another four-year term Friday, even as the White House described President Barack Obama as confident about his confirmation.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California announced she’ll vote against Bernanke, adding another Democrat to the ranks of those arrayed against Bernanke. “It is time for a change – it is time for Main Street to have a champion at the Fed,” she said.
Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota also said they’ll oppose Bernanke on the Senate floor. Feingold faults Bernanke for missing a high-risk culture at financial companies that led to a near economic meltdown late last year. Dorgan also is upset that the Fed has kept secret the identities of firms that drew emergency loans from the Fed.
Deputy press secretary Bill Burton, talking to reporters as Obama headed to Ohio Friday, said the president has “a great deal of confidence” in the actions Bernanke already has taken and believes he’s “the best person for the job.”
Burton said the White House still believes that Bernanke, 56, will get enough votes in the Senate to run the nation’s central bank for another four years.
But the political waters are getting rougher for Bernanke, and the Senate confirmation vote may be much tighter than many had anticipated just a few a month ago.
A time for a vote still hasn’t been set. Officials at one time had hoped that it would come this week. Bernanke’s term expires on Jan. 31.
If Bernanke is not confirmed before his term expires, Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn would probably step in as chairman and run the central bank on a temporary basis.
Just days after losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority in a Massachusetts special election, Senate Democrats are searching for a way to defuse voter anger that remains sluggish and is recovering slowly from a recession that was as harsh as any in decades.
While praised for preventing the Great Recession from turning into the Great Depression, Bernanke’s support of Wall Street bailouts – especially the $182 billion rescue of insurance giant American International Group Inc. – has touched a nerve on Main Street.
Burton said the White House is working to get Bernanke confirmed and there’s no backup plan. Some senators have said they want more information supporting Bernanke, a holdover from Republican President George W. Bush.
Bernanke and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., met Thursday to discuss ways to strengthen the economy, encourage more lending by banks and curb home foreclosures. Reid has been conspicuously quiet about where he stands.
Senate Democrats are scrambling to do head counts.
Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that Democrats had asked GOP leaders to do a whip count to measure support among Republicans. “We didn’t think we’d even have to count,” Stewart said.
Illustrating Bernanke’s difficulties in the Senate, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., one of four Republicans to vote for his nomination in the Senate Banking Committee, said Friday he was undecided on how to vote on final confirmation.
“The whole AIG issue – you’d have to be asleep not to know that that has certainly clouded the issue,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Corker said he has spoken to Bernanke a number of times over the past week, has reviewed Fed documents and reread Bernanke speeches. He said a strong argument for Bernanke is that he is best equipped to mop up massive amounts of money pumped into the economy during the crisis to avert another dangerous problem: an outbreak of inflation.
“On the other hand, at some point you have to weigh that against the fact that regardless of what he’s done, even if everything he’s done has been perfect, you’ve got to understand that trust that the public has in the Fed today has been greatly diminished by the activities that have taken place over the last couple of years.”
“At this point I just want to say I’m continuing to do all the due diligence that I a can,” Corker said.
Dissatisfied by the bailouts, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent liberal from Vermont, wants to block Bernanke’s confirmation with a filibuster on the Senate floor. He has placed a “hold” on the nomination, meaning it will require a super-majority of 60 votes to confirm Bernanke.
The Senate Banking Committee in mid-December sent Bernanke’s nomination to the Senate floor on a 16-7 vote. Six Republicans and one Democrat lined up against him.
Associated Press Writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Andy Taylor contributed to this report. Philip Elliott reported from aboard Air Force One.