For the first time ever, a woman will lead the nation’s powerful central bank, the Federal Reserve.
The Senate today confirmed Janet Yellen as chairwoman of the Fed’s Board of Governors, a role she’ll assume on Feb. 1.
The vote of 56 to 26, including 11 Republicans in favor, was a history-making first order of business for the Senate after returning from a three-week holiday recess. More than a dozen senators were not present for the vote because of weather-related travel delays.
Yellen, 67, who was nominated by President Obama in October, will become the first Democrat to head the central bank since 1987. She succeeds Ben Bernanke, a George W. Bush appointee who is stepping down after eight years at the helm.
A U.C. Berkley economist, Yellen has been vice chair of the Fed since 2010, when the bank was at the forefront of a government-wide battle against high unemployment and lagging economic growth.
She has advocated for an aggressive stimulus program of low interest rates and bond buying to strengthen the economy. She has also said she believes the bank has an obligation to “the well being of every American, and the strength and prosperity of our nation.”
“That prosperity depends most, of course, on the productiveness and enterprise of the American people,” Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee in November. “But the Federal Reserve plays a role, too, promoting conditions that foster maximum employment, low and stable inflation, and a safe and sound financial system.”
The philosophy has drawn fire from some Republicans, who warn that Yellen’s continued support for the Fed’s stimulus policies could fuel inflation.
“As chair, she’s likely to pursue these same ‘easy money’ policies with equal if not more vigor than her predecessor,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said today. “This expansionary policy cannot continue into in perpetuity.”
Last month, Fed policymakers agreed to dial back the stimulus program in early 2014 as the economic recovery takes hold.
Yellen has indicated that her tenure will be characterized by an intensive focus on reducing unemployment and supervising the nation’s big commercial banks.
“Our supervisory responsibilities are critical and they’re just as important as monetary policy,” she told senators in November, “and we need to take them just as seriously and devote just as much time and attention to them as we do to monetary policy.”
Obama hailed Yellen’s confirmation, calling her a “fierce champion” of everyday Americans and their families.
“Janet is committed to the Fed’s dual mandate of keeping inflation in check while also addressing our most important economic challenge by reducing unemployment and creating jobs,” he said.