The vote on Bernanke’s confirmation produced 30 “no” votes, more than any previous vote on a Fed chairman, even exceeding those against Paul Volcker after he had driven the economy into the most severe post-recession downturn in his effort to wring inflation out of the economy.
But that was still a comfortable win, right, even if the finally tally showed considerable unhappiness with Bernanke? Not at all. This observation came from an informed Hill observer:
Despite the wide margin, they were genuinely shitting bricks last Thursday. He was on the brink of going down, but they rallied and won. It was definitely closer than it appeared…. It’s just that once he got the votes, the undecideds broke hard in his direction.
And one of the factors in Bernanke and the Administration prevailing is that progressives believe in fighting fair, which puts them at a considerable disadvantage. As we pointed out, the real vote on the Fed confirmation was the cloture vote (the vote to force an end to debate and move on to a vote), particularly with several senators having put a “hold” on the Bernanke vote (a threat to filibuster). Conservatives (many of whom had joined with progressives to oppose to Bernanke) will close ranks and use the filibuster (hence the importance of the loss of the Democrat’s 60 votes in the Senate with the election of Scott Brown in Mass. The 60 votes would matter less if the Republicans had some compuntions about using filibusters and other procedural measures to prevail).
As Ryan Grim explained at Huffington Post:
The seven senators who voted for cloture but against Bernanke included six Democrats and Florida Republican Sen. George Lemieux, who is retiring in 2010. Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) is also retiring. Senators on their way out often promise leadership they will “be there on cloture,” but are then freed to vote against final passage. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) is also retiring and voted yes on cloture but no on final passage.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) also flipped their votes.
Whitehouse told HuffPost after the vote that it would have been hypocritical of him to filibuster the nominee, because he’d been critical of his colleagues who abused the filibuster in the past. “I’m for moving through cloture on this stuff. I’ve been annoyed by the Republican cloture blockades and I’ve been critical of members of my caucus who’ve denied the leader cloture. It would be highly inconsistent to vote against cloture,” he said. “I hope that my vote against him will help send a message to economic leadership that they need to pivot and they need to back off the record of, ‘Banks win every dispute with consumers and the public.'”
Franken expressed a similar sentiment. “While I voted for cloture because I believed this nomination deserved an up or down vote, I couldn’t in good conscience support it,” Franken said in a statement after the vote, after declining to talk to a HuffPost reporter in the hallway.
Franken said he opposed the nomination because he didn’t get the assurances he wanted about consumer protection. “A strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency and other consumer protections are essential to securing our economy for Main Street and the middle class,” Franken said. “I needed to know that a robust CFPA would be a part of financial regulatory reform in order to support Chairman Bernanke’s confirmation to a second term. As governor of the Federal Reserve and then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke did almost nothing to protect consumers and when he did, it was too late. I needed the assurance that would improve. And I didn’t get that.”
“I wasn’t somebody who wanted to prevent a vote on it,” Dorgan said after the vote.
The lesson here: Centrist and conservative senators are willing to deny an up-or-down vote on policy they oppose, but progressive senators often are not. That dynamic tilts political power toward leadership and conservative priorities.
Bernanke’s opponents pointed to the relative success of their push against his confirmation, which was considered a virtual certainty two weeks ago but became an open question following the election of a Republican, Scott Brown, in the Massachusetts Senate election. “I think it’s important for him to note that he did have 30 votes-plus [sic] against him. I think the message is, take a look at Main Street, not just Wall Street,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said.
As the Israelis say, “Love your enemy, for you will become him.” Progressives seem not to have made that leap.