Senate Democrats gave a standing ovation to outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during a lunch meeting Thursday, according to Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D-Calif.).
The rousing reception for the Fed chief is a marked change from just two years ago, when many Democrats were skeptical of Bernanke and his stewardship of the economy.
When Bernanke was up for confirmation to a second term in 2010, 11 Democrats and the liberal Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Sanders calls deadly Afghan drone strike 'unacceptable' MORE (I-Vt.) voted against him.
But now, as he serves out the final days of his term, Democrats who once criticized Bernanke for failing to sniff out the financial crisis are singing a different tune.
Boxer, who opposed Bernanke in 2010 as a way to protest the Fed’s failure to detect problems in the housing market, on Thursday called that vote a “big mistake.”
She said Bernanke's efforts over the last several years to boost the economy by buying up trillions of dollars in bonds won her over and called him an important counterweight to GOP efforts to trim spending and cut the deficit.
“Frankly, I think without quantitative easing, given the austerity boys over here, we’d be in a much worse situation,” she said.
Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa), a fellow Bernanke nay-sayer, is another convert.
“This guy’s good. I like him. … I hope [Janet] Yellen continues his policies,” he said. “I have to admit that my vote was probably wrong.”
The dozen votes of opposition Bernanke received from the left in 2010 contributed to a record level of opposition for a Fed chairman. All told, 30 senators voted against Bernanke’s second term, with much of the opposition coming as a populist protest for the Fed’s failures leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown.
Yellen, who was confirmed by the Senate Monday, came close to breaking Bernanke’s opposition record and likely would have had adverse weather not kept several senators from making it to Washington for the vote. She was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 26, with unanimous Democratic support.
By and large, Democrats cited Bernanke’s unprecedented steps to stimulate the economy as a reason for the shift in opinion.
“All you have to do is measure the economy,” said Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D-Alaska), another former Bernanke critic. “The economy is way better than it was in January of 2009.”
As Democrats have warmed to Bernanke, the man first appointed by former President George W. Bush has lost ground among Republicans. Conservatives had been fiercely critical of his policies, arguing that the extremely accommodative monetary policy is ineffective and risky.
Yellen, who most see as quite similar to Bernanke, received just 11 votes of support from Republicans.
Many Democrats would argue that it's not that they have come around on Bernanke, but rather Bernanke that has come around to them.
Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), who backed Bernanke’s second term, hailed him for his “plainspoken brilliance” and contended the Fed chairman has transformed over time.
“I think he’s evolved. He was regarded as sort of a conservative Republican, but if you listen to his answers in there, he is really thoughtful and progressive,” he said.
“He’s much more worried about middle-class incomes and the growth of average families than he is about the deficit. That was not the Bernanke we knew in his early years, but the world has changed and he, not being an ideologue, has changed with it.”