Paul threatens to keep Senate from Christmas vacation over Fed fight

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is threatening to keep the Senate in session by dragging out Janet Yellen’s confirmation as head of the Federal Reserve.

The noted central bank critic said Tuesday that he was prepared to force the Senate to exhaust the full 30 hours of debate on Yellen’s nomination if he did not receive a vote on his legislation to fully audit the Fed. His push comes as senators are trying to wrap up their work for the year.

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Paul opposes Yellen’s nomination to head the Fed but said he would get out of the way if the Senate agreed to hold a vote on his legislation to fully audit the central bank. If not, he’s prepared to slow the process as much as possible.

“We’ll try to slow it down or stop it as much as we can,” he said. “We’ve told them that we will allow it to move forward and expedite it if they give us a vote on ‘Audit the Fed.’”

Paul and his supporters do not have the ability to actually block Yellen’s confirmation, after Senate Democrats changed the chamber’s rules to let nominees be confirmed with a simple majority vote. But he can drag out the process, something that could irritate colleagues hoping to get out of Washington for a holiday break.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday he wants to advance 11 nominees, including Yellen, before closing up shop. He added that he is prepared to keep the chamber in session until Christmas Eve if necessary to get it done, calling on Republicans to strike a compromise with Democrats to move those picks speedily.

Paul said he has met with Democratic leaders on the issue, and was searching for a deal.

“I just came from talking to [Democratic] leadership, and I said I’ll be happy to get out of the way … 30 hours’ worth of debate is always something to use as leverage to get something else you want,” he said. “I’m not against the process of government moving forward. But it should be give and take. Right now, there’s all take on one side, and no give.”

Last week, Republicans protested against that rules change by forcing the Senate to hold a pair of all-night sessions to get nominees confirmed, and it is not clear if Republicans will put up a similar fight on this week’s slate of nominees.

The push to confirm Yellen comes as Senate Democrats are hoping to confirm a number of nominees before wrapping up work for the year. On Monday, the Senate voted to confirm Jeh Johnson as the next director of the Department of Homeland Security. Alejandro Mayorkas, nominated to serve as Johnson’s top deputy, and John Koskinen, nominated to head the IRS, both cleared procedural hurdles Monday as well.

The Fed is currently subject to a number of independent audits, but its monetary policy decisions are not. Fed officials, including Chairman Ben Bernanke, have opposed legislation that would open those deliberations up to outside audits, warning it could expose the institution to undue political pressure.

The House approved legislation to fully audit the Fed with bipartisan support in 2012, but it was never brought up in the Senate.

— Bernie Becker contributed to this story.