Moving the Senate Banking Committee to "No" on Bernanke

NOTE: If you want to add your voice to the grassroots campaign to stop Ben Bernanke's reappointment to the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, go here.

Thanks to a transpartisan effort to stop the reappointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, there's a slim - but distinct - possibility that his reappointment can actually be successfully thwarted (in my newspaper column coming up on Friday, I'll outline exactly why that would be a good thing - but as a brief summary, I'll just say a top regulator who indisputably fell down on the regulatory job in the lead-up to the biggest financial meltdown in a half-century deserves - at minimum - to be fired). I say that because between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jim Bunning (R-KY) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), you've got the entire political spectrum in the U.S. Senate represented in the opposition: Progressive, Establishment Republican, and Tea Party, respectively.

However, before we get to whether Bernanke will survive a Senate floor vote, let's look at whether he will even survive a vote in the Senate Banking Committee. If he's stopped there, his renomination is dead. In the following, you'll find my take on which Democratic senators on that committee* the progressive movement has the best chance of moving to "no." To sum up, I think there's a good chance we can move two Democratic senators, a decent chance we can move another two, and a possibility we can move one more. Couple that with the GOP committee votes against Bernanke (definitely from Bunning and DeMint, likely from Kay Bailey Hutchison and possibly from Shelby and a few others), and there's a very real chance that we could scrap together enough votes to stop Bernanke's nomination in the committee.

So if you are a constituent of any of these Democratic senators in the analysis below, please get in touch with them immediately and ask them to vote against Bernanke.

DEFINITELY MOVEABLE TO "NO" - Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR): A freshman, Merkley ran as a populist progressive (see my election-year column on him) and represents a state that has - at times - rewarded the kind of principles-based iconoclasm that a "no" vote on Bernanke would embody. This week, he made some headlines in the business press saying he's "still wrestling" with whether to vote yea or nay on Bernanke - and his rationale for the latter are solid: he's specifically concerned with how Bernanke failed to do his job in the lead-up to the crisis, which is a commonsense reason for termination in any job. Finally, Merkley campaigned against the very bailouts that Bernanke (or, really, Bernanke-ism) has come to represent. Though he seemed to forget/ignore that fact in his first few months in Congress, it is a fact - and a vote against Bernanke would go a long way toward rectifying his initial bailout flip flop.

POSSIBLY MOVEABLE TO "NO" - Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): Another freshman and another populist, Brown literally has no real rationale to vote for Bernanke if he believes in all the things he's made his political career about. Literally - No. Rationale. Whatsoever. At an ideological level, Bernanke represents the kind of free-market fundamentalism that Brown campaigned against in his run for the Senate. At a policy level, Bernanke's record represents the kind of deregulatory posture that, again, Brown campaigned against (and, in the House, voted against) during most of his career. That said, Brown seems to be implying to the business press that he is considering a quiet vote in support of Bernanke. My guess is he's making these noises because he doesn't want to embarrass President Obama, but my additional guess is that if his vote becomes not so quiet - that if there's a lot of attention on his vote - he can be moved to a "no vote."

NOT IMPOSSIBLY MOVEABLE TO "NO" - Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO):: Colorado's appointed senator has taken a boatload of cash from Wall Street, and in an interview with me on my statewide, drive-time radio show here in his home state about a week and a half ago, he said he was leaning strongly towards voting for Bernanke. However, that was before the Sanders/Bunning hold drew big-time attention to the Bernanke vote. Bennet is facing a contested Democratic primary. If this vote gets a lot of attention and becomes a potential electoral contrast point, he might be willing to move to "no" - especially considering the fact that his Democratic opponent, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, is already publicly criticizing Bennet for being too close to Wall Street.

NOT IMPOSSIBLY MOVEABLE TO "NO" - Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT):: This should be an easy - almost reflexive - "no" vote for the Montanan, but "should" is the operative word. Tester, the guy who campaigned as the anti-establishment regular-guy farmer, has cast some perplexingly awful votes for Wall Street (see cramdown). Then again, he also asked Bernanke some pretty tough questions at Bernanke's first hearing. So it's anyone's bet where he's going to come down - but I have to believe with some pressure he may be at least open to the idea of voting "no" (especially since it's not one of those social/tax issues that would put him at any electoral/political risk against his likely 2012 opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg).

SHOULDN'T BE IMPOSSIBLY MOVEABLE TO "NO," BUT PROBABLY IS - Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT):: He's been a bit of a roller-coaster lately. Over his career, he's been one of the economic establishment's best friends. Then Dodd got himself embroiled in a electorally problematic scandal for that kinship, and he's suddenly seen the progressive light (shocker!). After Dodd introduced a solid - and more progressive - alternative to the House's weak Wall Street reform bill, and after he also said Bernanke's confirmation wasn't a foregone conclusion, I thought there was reason to hope that he could be a "no." But then Dodd started criticizing the Sanders/Bunning block on the nomination. Seems to me that in this case, Dodd is going back to his comfort zone - namely, back to coddling Wall Street. However, if Republicans start moving as a block to vote against Bernanke as a matter of political opportunity, Dodd could still be pushed to a "no" out of fear that his 2010 election opponent will use a "yes" vote to hammer him.

ALMOST DEFINITELY NOT MOVEABLE TO "NO": Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD): Bayh is one of the biggest corporate whores in the entire Congress. Schumer - despite the occasional pander to populist rhetoric - has always been a loyal sycophant of Wall Street, both for home-state and ideological reasons. Warner is no Jim Webb - he's both a corporate whore and ideologically predisposed against doing anything that could even be vaguely perceived as rocking the boat. Tim Johnson represents a state where a huge amount of the banking/credit card industry resides - 'nuff said (and hey, I hope I'm pleasantly surprised to the contrary on all these!).

YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE - BUT I'M NOT HOLDING MY BREATH: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Herb Kohl (D-WI): I'd probably put Menendez in the same boat as Schumer, but he's been a tad better, and represents a state where a Wall Street executive named Jon Corzine just got booted out of office - so maybe he could be convinced to vote "no" on Bernanke. Reed and Akaka aresolid liberal on lots of issues, but they've defined themselves far more on military/foreign policy issues. And Kohl - well, I almost forgot he's a senator, so while he represents the kind of populist/independent state that would reward a no vote, he's also a zillionaire who has never opted to make much of a name for himself on anything, much less a big-time issue like the reappointment of a Fed chairman.

* Other than what I alluded to in the first paragraph, I'm not going to try to speculate further on the votes of Republican senators because A) the progressive movement probably doesn't have the leverage to move them and B) their decisions will be colored by Democrats decisions (ie. if Democrats vote for Bernanke, they'll be more likely to vote against to try to embarrass Democrats).