WASHINGTON — The Senate is wasting no time putting White House economist Ben Bernanke in place to succeed Alan Greenspan upon the Federal Reserve chairman's retirement Jan. 31.
Unlike President Bush's nominee to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, Bernanke is getting a quick one-day confirmation hearing Nov. 15 before the Senate Banking Committee.
The panel released the schedule a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee informed the White House that it won't be taking up Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court until Jan. 9.
Bernanke, 51, a former Federal Reserve governor and Princeton University professor, is chairman of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers. Thus far, he has encountered little opposition to his nomination.
If approved by the Senate, which is expected, Bernanke would succeed Greenspan, 79, who will step down on Jan. 31 after 18-plus years at the helm of the central bank.
While Bernanke has pledged continuity with Greenspan's policies, the two men differ on whether the Fed should set numerical targets spelling out acceptable bounds for inflation — Bernanke thinks it should, Greenspan does not. Otherwise, they share a similar philosophy.
The choice of the well-respected Bernanke, considered one of the country's leading economic thinkers, is seen as a safe one for Bush, whose job approval is at the lowest level of his presidency.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., expects that Bernanke will be grilled on a wide range of economic topics, including his preference for numerical inflation targets. The Fed doesn't use an inflation target now.
The senator also says Bernanke probably will be asked about his thoughts on the nation's fiscal situation — tax cuts and spending issues — as well as budget and trade deficits, jobs and the country's economic state and its outlook.
Like Greenspan, Bernanke has talked about the importance of keeping inflation low and stable, the benefits and challenges of international trade, and the great difficulty in identifying when prices for stocks, homes or other assets become overly inflated and turn into a bubble that could suddenly pop and send prices falling. Both have said that trying to prick a bubble through higher interest rates could have done serious damage to the economy.
Bernanke has won Senate confirmation three times in the past: twice at the Fed and once to be chairman of the CEA. If all goes smoothly, Bernanke could take over on Feb. 1. His first Fed meeting would be March 28.