Bernanke quest: The scramble for 60 votes

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Ben Bernanke watch: 6 days and counting.

The Federal Reserve chairman's term ends on Sunday, and Washington is abuzz with speculation about whether the Senate will reconfirm him.

The Obama administration is confident that he has the 60 votes he needs to get Bernanke another term.

"We need his leadership," White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN on Sunday. "And the president is very confident that the chairman will be confirmed."

Obama phoned senators over the weekend to "check in" a White House official told CNN. And Senate leaders also scrambled to see where the votes are.

Bernanke spent part of Monday afternoon meeting with senators on Capitol Hill about his first term running the Fed.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CNN on Monday that Bernanke was "frank" with senators and acknowledged mistakes were made. But Bernanke also told senators that many of the problems the nation now faces started before he started running the Fed, Durbin said.

"Having said that, he was on the Federal Reserve at the time some decisions were made," Durbin said. "He acknowledges he did not see, at the time. the long-term negative impact. And neither did any one else serving the Fed. And very few people in our country saw them."

Until last week, Bernanke's confirmation had been viewed as a sure thing.

But voter frustration has been growing against Washington, as lawmakers are accused of doing a better job at getting Wall Street back on its feet than Main Street.

Then Massachusetts voters chose upstart Republican Scott Brown to take over a Senate seat once considered a Democratic stronghold.

Gauging support: Lawmakers, especially those up for election in November, began to publicly turn on Bernanke.

Last Friday, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said they plan to vote against Bernanke. Both are up for re-election this fall. Several other Democratic senators told CNN they're undecided.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is also up for re-election and down in the pools, issued a tepid statement late Friday saying he'd support Bernanke, but "my support is not unconditional."

It's not clear whether Bernanke's confirmation is in jeopardy, because he was always expected to win some Republican support.

Many Republicans and Democrats have yet to publicly declare their allegiance.

In the Senate Banking Committee, four Republicans voted to confirm Bernanke, crediting him for saving the economy from a second Great Depression.

Other Democratic senators and a Republican issued statements of support over the weekend. These include Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

"The White House appears to have applied a sufficient tourniquet to Bernanke's reconfirmation over the weekend," wrote Chris Krueger, an analyst for Concept Capital Washington Research Group in a report.

But the Senate can't even start the process of considering Bernanke until 60 senators sign off, because a few senators who oppose his confirmation filed official "holds" delaying the process.

Some have started to wonder whether Bernanke will be confirmed before Feb. 1. If the vote is delayed, there's a question as to whether Bernanke can be temporarily re-appointed as acting chair. If not, Fed Vice Chair Donald Kohn would serve as acting chairman.

Senate Democrats are expected to start the confirmation process later this week, according to Congressional aides.

Bernanke has always had his critics in the Senate. Bernie Sanders, a left-leaning independent from Vermont who often votes with the Democrats, and Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Sanders' political opposite, are two of the most vocal.

"Democrats and President Obama are putting their credibility on the line if they think they can criticize Wall Street and big banks one day and then turn around and support Bernanke, Wall Street's candidate, the next day," Sanders said. "That doesn't pass the smell test."

* CNN's Dana Bash and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report. To top of page

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