Senate hands Bernanke another term as Fed chairman on 70-30 vote

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Ben Bernanke to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman, handing President Barack Obama a hard-fought victory.

The 70-30 vote showed strong bipartisan criticism of Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, which played a key role in the financial crisis and ensuing taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street.

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Bernanke, the former Princeton professor, became a lightning rod for Democrats and Republicans anxious about taxpayer support for the financial industry while the broader economy suffers.

Bernanke received the fewest confirmation votes in history in support of a Fed chairman. Paul Volcker received the previous record of votes in opposition at 19 in the early 1980s.

Some Democrats said they were using their votes against Bernanke to send a strong message to the White House to switch economic policies and focus more on the middle class than large banks.

“I want to express with my vote that the leaders of President Obama’s economic team must pivot,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) lashed out at the Fed’s record on regulation and said it failed to ensure high levels of employment.

Many Republicans also strongly criticized Bernanke’s tenure at the Fed and the steps to bailout banks and other companies.

“If we don’t hold Chairman Bernanke accountable, what precedent are we setting?” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

The Obama administration worked hard over the last week to shore up support for Bernanke, who was first appointed by President George W. Bush and whose current term is up Jan. 31.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, are growing more anxious about the midterm elections this year as the broader economy continues to remain in the doldrums of 10 percent unemployment.

While Wall Street is rallying and big banks return to high levels of profit, the unemployment rate continues to be high and the housing market remains weak.

The Senate earlier on Thursday held a cloture vote to cut off debate on Bernanke’s confirmation. That vote required 60 votes to pass because several senators, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jim Demint (R-S.C.), had placed holds on the confirmation.

The cloture vote passed 77-23, with a surprisingly larger number of votes in support than some observers had predicted.

Five Democrats and Sanders voted against Bernanke on the cloture vote, while 23 Republicans voted in favor of cutting off debate.

On the final vote, Sanders and 11 Democrats voted against Bernanke’s confirmation. They were: Mark Begich (Alaska), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Boxer, Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Whitehouse.

Meanwhile, 22 Republicans joined Democrats in favor of Bernanke on the final vote. They were: Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Bob Bennett (Utah), Kit Bond (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

There were six Democrats who switched their positions on the votes. The six Democrats voted in favor of cloture, but opposed Bernanke on the final vote. They were Boxer, Dorgan, Franken, Harkin, Kaufman and Whitehouse.

This story was updated at 5:10 p.m.

Sen. George Lemieux (Fla.) was the one Republican who voted in favor of cloture, but against Bernanke in the final vote.