There is a curious disparity in the reports on Bernanke’s odds of reconfirmation as Fed chairman. Now on the one hand, incumbents generally have an upper hand. But incumbents seldom preside over massive disasters that started on their watch and remain sufficiently unobservant as to be unable to connect the dots that they might have had something to do with the mess.
The object lesson tonight is the contrast between Bloomberg and Huffington Post coverage on the Senate Banking Committee vote on Bernanke this Thursday. Bloomberg has already declared a winner: “Bernanke Has Support of Majority of Senators on Banking Panel.” But the data in the story is less definitive:
Eight Democrats and four Republicans, among the 23 lawmakers on the panel overseeing the central bank, made their views known in interviews, comments to reporters or written statements. Some said they will support Bernanke, while others said they’re leaning in his favor.
Yves here. Note the disparity between the headline, which says the Fed chair has the support of a majority, and the second paragraph tally, which says he has a bare majority of supporters and those inclined toward him but not decided.
And take note of this remark:
Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the panel’s top Republican, declined to comment except to say, “You’ll be there Thursday.”
By contrast, the Huffington Post framed the story around what my DC experts tell me is Bernanke’s big point of vulnerability: his lack of interest in the welfare of ordinary Americans. Their title: “Fed Needs To ‘Start Giving A Red Hot Damn About The American Public,’ Says Sen. Whitehouse.”
Recall that the Fed has a dual mandate, combatting inflation and promoting full employment, along with its original charter of assuring the safety and soundness of banks. Those duties are not fully consistent, but Bernanke clearly sees the world from the big end of town perspective. The Fed took even less interest in the problems posed by subprime than the bank-friendly Office of the Controller of the Currency, even though it was required to do so under the Home Owners Equity Protection Act.
And HuffPo makes it sound as if the confirmation is not a given:
Two days before Ben Bernanke’s confirmation hearing, most Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee are withholding judgment, waiting to hear directly from the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Given the depth of the ongoing economic crisis, the hearing promises to be a lively one, as senators plan to take out their constituents’ anger on the monetary policy chief. Bernanke will likely have a difficult time explaining why the Fed wants to keep bank lending to a minimum while the lack of bank lending is exacerbating the unemployment crisis.
HuffPo also differs in its reading of how keen particular Senators are. For instance, while HuffPo pointed out, as Bloomberg did, that Dodd is leaning towards Bernanke, it added (as Bloomberg did not) that Dodd made a point of saying his stance was not a foregone conclusion.
The committee’s top-ranking Republican, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), wasn’t excited about voting for Bernanke. “I used to be a big defender of the Fed, but I think the Fed has utterly failed as a regulator,” he said. Asked if he’d support him, he said, “We’ll see.”
So if you are as unhappy as I am about Bernanke, be sure to call or e-mail your Senator, particularly if one of them is on the Senate Banking Committee. You can find a list of names (with state and party noted) with links to their contact info here.
Separate but related, this week’s offering at Big Think is a series of interviews with David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal. This clip is “In Fed We Trusted”: