Ben Bernanke's term running out as Senate Dems try to set a vote

Senate Democrats will try to reach an agreement in the next two weeks to hold a vote on Ben Bernanke's confirmation to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman.

Bernanke, whose term is up Jan. 31, will face a contentious confirmation vote for Fed chairman. Several senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), have placed holds on the vote.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is working on an agreement to bring the vote up on the floor amid the already packed calendar, but a vote has yet to be scheduled, an aide said.

An aide to Sanders said he did not know of any meetings so far between Reid and the senator to reach an agreement on when to allow normal debate to proceed. If Reid is unable to reach an agreement with Sanders and the Republicans senators who have placed holds, he would need to file for cloture.

Most analysts expect Bernanke to be confirmed, but a cloture process requiring 60 votes would underscore the political heat enveloping the Federal Reserve.

"It would be extraordinary, but I don't know that it means much more than we know," said Doug Elliott, of the Brookings Institution. "I think he'll probably be voted in 3 to 1 or at least 2 to 1. If you've got 40 votes against him, that would be more of a message."

Reid has yet to say he will file for cloture, and an aide said that he would continue to pursue an agreement.

The Fed has come under extreme pressure on Capitol Hill for the extraordinary steps it took to support the financial industry in the last two years. The House passed legislation in December that would allow government audits of the central bank's monetary policy. The Fed has been criticized by both liberals and conservatives.

"It's always going to be scary to the markets if they think there is a weak Fed chairman," Elliott said.

Separately, the Senate Banking Committee will continue to hash out financial regulatory overhaul legislation. Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) are working on a compromise behind the scenes.

The thorniest aspect remains the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) that would have power over credit cards and home loans, among other issues. The agency has strong support from most Democrats and consumer groups, but is fiercely opposed by Republicans and the financial industry.

Aides and industry sources said that one option under discussion would be to create instead a consumer protection division of a new bank regulator. There remains significant debate about such a division's capacity for rulemaking and enforcement. But the lack of a separate agency could ease tensions.

And an agreement on the CFPA could begin paving the way for a bipartisan bill that would have much easier chances for final passage.