* Reid sets Thursday procedural vote on two stalled nominees
* Aide says a confirmation vote may also be held Thursday
* McConnell says the pair have bipartisan support
By Thomas Ferraro and Donna Smith
WASHINGTON, May 15 President Barack Obama's two
stalled nominees for the Federal Reserve are likely to clear a
Senate procedural hurdle on Thursday, paving the way for
anticipated confirmation, the chamber's leaders said on Tue sday.
Democratic and Republican aides said they expect Senate
approval of the pair as early as Thursday, shortly after the
procedural vote, which would take the Fed's Washington-based
board up to its full seven-person strength for the first time
since April 2006.
"We've been waiting months and months. It's important we
have a fully functioning Fed," Senate Democratic leader Harry
Reid told reporters.
Since officials on the central bank's board are usually
aligned with the chairman on matters of policy, Senate approval
of the nominees - Harvard economist Jeremy Stein and investment
banker Jerome Powell - could strengthen Ben Bernanke's hand if
he decides the economy needs more support.
Last month, Bernanke left the door open to further steps to
buttress growth but said Fed policy appeared "more or less in
the right place." The Fed has held overnight interest rates near
zero since late 2008 and has bought $2.3 trillion in government
and mortgage-related bonds to push other borrowing costs down.
Republican Senator David Vitter objected to both nominees,
saying he worried they would provide "rubber stamps" for
Bernanke's policies, and he called for a full debate.
Vitter's move had raised the specter the Senate might
abandon the nominees, leaving a decision on filling out the Fed
board to whoever wins the presidential election in November.
But Reid, with Republican support, moved to confirm and seat
them. He scheduled a procedural vote for Thursday and expressed
hope the nominees that Obama put forward in December would
secure the 60 votes needed to move toward final approval.
Democrats hold the Senate, 53-47, meaning they need at least
a few Republicans votes to reach the needed 60.
"My impression is that there is bipartisan support," Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
A senior Democratic aide described the two as a "balanced
pair," saying that while Obama formally nominated both of them,
Powell had been "hand-picked by Senator McConnell."
A Democratic aide said a final confirmation vote would
likely come o n T hursday, with both Democrats and Republicans
agreeing to only a brief debate.
However, Republicans could push a vote into Friday or early
next week if they want more time to discuss the nominees.
Stein, who holds a doctorate in economics from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a Harvard economist
who served briefly as a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner and as a staff member for Obama's National
Economic Council. He specializes in stock price behavior,
corporate investment and financing decisions, risk management
and business capital allocation.
Powell is a lawyer who brings Wall Street experience, having
worked at Bankers Trust, the Carlyle Group and Dillon Read after
serving as a Treasury undersecretary in the administration of
former President George H. W. Bush. His knowledge of financial
markets could help fill the gap left by Kevin Warsh, a former
Morgan Stanley executive who left the Fed a year ago.
By choosing a pair of nominees with Democratic and
Republican credentials, Obama had hoped to win quick approval.
Fed board terms run for 14 years but Stein and Powell have
been nominated to fill out unexpired terms. Powell's term would
end on Jan. 31, 2014, and Stein's would end on Jan. 31, 2018.