JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 22, 2010
So Bernanke may be in even worse shape than I thought. The Times says Harry Reid isn't sure he has 60 votes for confirmation. In fact, he's not even sure he'll support Bernanke himself. The most telling detail in the piece:
Senate Democrats leaders had contemplated trying to hold a vote on Mr. Bernanke’s nomination to a second term this week, but were forced to hold off after several senators unexpectedly voiced opposition to his confirmation at the party’s weekly luncheon on Wednesday. Democratic leaders asked for a show of hands and though aides would not provide a precise count, Mr. Reid was said to be surprised at the number.
A couple more thoughts:
1.) The White House, correctly in my opinion, believes it's really important to confirm Bernanke. But the implications of this are unappetizing to say the least. For one thing, if you're going to knock heads together to get Bernanke through the Senate next week, it'll make it a lot tougher to subsequently knock a bunch of heads together for health care. (The Senate would presumably have to pass some fixes to its original bill, which the House would insist on before passing it.) Which is to say, I think there's a chance Bernanke kills whatever slim hope we have of getting health care done.
2.) The only alternative is that the GOP comes to the rescue here, and delivers Bernanke the necessary margin in the Senate. Reid seems to be thinking along these lines--the Times says he asked Mitch McConnell to count Republican votes. In the abstract, Bernanke probably does have enough supporters among Senate Republicans to get confirmed once you throw in the number of Dems who'll definitely vote yes. But in practice? Everything we've seen out of the GOP this year suggests McConnell would prefer another financial panic--which would presumably harm the party in charge--to pitching in and helping confirm Bernanke. And, of course, McConnell can make the same calculations I can: If he doesn't help out, then the White House has to knock heads together, which makes it that much harder to get health care done. (More broadly, not helping forces Democrats to take a tough vote, which makes the senators who are up in November more vulnerable.) So, to make a long story short, I don't expect much GOP help here.
Update: Okay, some actual reporting... For what it's worth, a senior Democratic Senate aide says the Bernanke scrambling is pure Coakley fallout but guesses Bernanke will ultimately be confirmed. Asked to explain Harry Reid's wavering, the aide notes the senator's tough re-election campaign but adds that, even if his political standing were solid back home, he'd still need to reassure his anxious caucus that he wasn't going to just "rubber stamp Bernanke without sending a message." In his heart of hearts, he may very well want to get Bernanke confirmed, but he's got a pretty fine needle to thread.