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Senate panel approves Bernanke for second term

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke moved a step closer to keeping his job on Thursday as a Senate Banking committee voted to confirm his nomination.

A Senate Banking committee voted 16-to-7 to confirm Bernanke for another four-year term running the Federal Reserve. Most Democrats and several Republicans voted for him.

Bernanke wins confirmation from a Senate banking panel.

"I happen to believe had he and others not acted. . .at a time of critical importance of our country, we'd be looking at a very, very different and far more dire situation in our nation than is otherwise the case," said Senate Banking chair Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

President Obama has nominated Bernanke, 56, to serve another term when his current one expires in January. Now, the vote on Bernanke moves to the full Senate, where he is expected to win confirmation, although the vote could be delayed.

And as Thursday's vote shows, it could be close, compared to past confirmations of Fed chairmen.

Four Republicans, including Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, Sen. Judd Gregg, N.H., Sen. Bob Corker of Tenn. and Sen. Mike Johanns of Neb., voted to confirm him. One Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, voted against him.

Bernanke spent several hours answering senators' questions earlier this month, but did not attend Thursday's vote.

While many credit Bernanke for saving the economy from falling into the next Great Depression, some in Congress blame the Fed - and Bernanke - for having failed to restrain the housing bubble. Others say he has gone too far in the financial system bailouts.

But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the Senate needs to consider Bernanke's role "leading up to the crisis," when risky behavior in the markets was the norm under his watch.

"We talk a good game when it comes to accountability but we rarely match our rhetoric with action," Shelby said. "I believe we must not only express our disapproval of this nominee, but we should also signal future nominees that we have expectations and that those expectations should be met."

But Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., defended Bernanke, saying that all federal regulators "made mistakes" and firing Bernanke would mean "we'd have to start with a clean slate" with all regulators.

"I think Chairman Bernanke gets up every morning. I think he tries to do those things that he believes are best for this country. I believe that," Corker said. "I don't believe he has a political cell in his body."

It could be a while before Bernanke's final confirmation goes before the full Senate. A handful of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have placed holds delaying his confirmation, including long-time Bernanke critic Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats.

"Ben Bernanke failed on his job," Sanders said during a Wednesday press conference, reiterating he intended to try to block the confirmation. "Why would you want to appoint someone to this important position with that kind of track record?"

The holds mean that Bernanke would need to get at least 60 votes before his confirmation is debated before the full Senate. Sen. Dodd signaled he intends to push for a vote sometime between when the Senate returns from the holiday break on Jan. 19 and when Bernanke's term ends on Jan. 30.

TIME Magazine named Bernanke its "Person of the Year" earlier this week.

Sen. Bunning criticized that distinction on Thursday.

"Chairman Bernanke may wonder if he really wants to be honored by an organization that has previously named people like Joseph Stalin twice, Yasser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Vladimir Putin, Richard Nixon twice, as their person of the year," Bunning said. "But I congratulate him and hope he at least turns out better than most of those people." To top of page

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