Ben Bernanke was confirmed for a second term as Fed chairman today by a vote of 70-30. Neil Irwin of the Washington Post answers the first question that popped into my mind:
Bernanke was confirmed by a narrower margin than any previous Fed chairman. The previous record for most “no” votes was Paul Volcker in 1983, when he was confirmed 84 to 16.
Bernanke has “more votes against him than any Fed chairman has ever had. And that’s a signal,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), in an interview. “The Fed is controversial with the American people. Bailouts. Lack of supervision over [bank] holding companies.”
I hope Shelby is right. But my guess is that this is mostly a manifestation of the fact that confirmations have become more contentious in recent years. Even during a bad recession I’ll bet Bernanke would have been confirmed easily a few decades ago. After all, Sonia Sotomayor was no more liberal then Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she was confirmed for the Supreme Court 68-31 compared to Ginsburg’s 96-3.
Anyway, I certainly look forward to a chastened Ben Bernanke coming out strongly in favor of serious financial sector regulation. I’m not taking any bets on it, though.