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2 Fed nominees get Senate panel’s OK

WASHINGTON - A Senate committee on Thursday approved President Obama’s two nominations to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve board. But prospects for a quick confirmation in the full Senate are uncertain.

On a voice vote, the Senate Banking Committee backed the nominations of Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economics professor, and Jerome Powell, an investment banker who served under President George H.W. Bush.

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Obama had nominated Stein, a Democrat, and Powell, a Republican, hoping that pairing nominees from both parties could overcome Republican objections. The Fed board has not operated with a full seven members since 2006.

But one Republican senator, David Vitter of Louisiana, a critic of Fed policy under chairman Ben Bernanke, has expressed opposition. That will not necessarily block the nominees’ confirmation. But it means the Senate will not vote before its two-week break starts this weekend.

Vitter has criticized the Fed’s efforts to keep interest rates at record lows to encourage borrowing and strengthen the economy. He and other opponents argue that the Fed’s actions have raised the risk of high inflation when the economy strengthens. Vitter said this week that he would oppose both nominations.

Bernanke has argued that the Fed’s actions have been necessary to support an economy that is growing only modestly and grappling with historically high unemployment.

Vitter said he would block any effort to advance the nominations in an accelerated process that can occur only if every senator agrees. The Senate will take up the nominations in mid-April.

The Senate committee approved three other nominations Thursday: Jeremiah Norton, as a member of the board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; Richard Berner, to head the new Office of Financial Research at the Treasury Department; and Christy Romero as special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the government’s financial rescue effort.

The Senate later Thursday did approve Thomas Curry as head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which also gives him a spot on the FDIC board. The Senate also OK’d Martin Gruenberg, Thomas Hoenig, and Norton for the FDIC board.

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