Barely escaping the first default in U.S. history Oct. 16, President Barack Obama faces dangerous obstacles ahead hoping to confirm 67-year-old Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen and Homeland Secretary nominee, 56-year-old Defense Dept. attorney Jeh Johnson. Obama faces two big GOP guns simultaneously, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both of whom have an ax to grind. Graham’s pet peeve involves the Sept. 11, 2011 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed 52-year-old Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Graham joins Paul in preventing any-and-all of Barack’s nominations until satisfied with the White House’s response for information. While Graham’s request of having remaining Benghazi survivors appear before Senate Armed Services Committee seems doable, Paul’s demands on the Federal Reserve are unrealistic.
For over two years, Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have demanded more answers on why the State and Defense Departments left Benghazi vulnerable to an al-Qaeda terrorist attack. Shortly after the event, the White House sent then U.N. Amb. Susan Rice on the Sunday morning TV talk-show circuit to claim the attack was due to spontaneous rioting. When the dust settled, it was obvious that the attack was a carefully planned al-Qaeda retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden May 1, 2011. “Where are the Benghazi survivors,” asked Graham. “I’m going to block every nomination in the U.S. Senate until they are made available to Congress,” putting the White House on notice that there’s tough sledding ahead. While Graham doesn’t take his cues from Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), he’s been waiting for the right moment to start making more waves.
While there’s much criticism to go around on Benghazi, it’s become more obvious that the GOP fears a 2016 run by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. During the 2012 campaign Republicans pulled out all stops to make Benghazi a campaign issue. When the public yawned, Graham and McCain went after Hillary, eventually pushing her to testify Jan. 13, 2013 before she left office. Regurgitating Benghazi keeps Hillary in the news, a year-or-so before she needs to get serious about 2016. When former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and former Amb. Thomas Pickering released their report Dec. 16, 2012 on Benghazi, it showed culpability up the chain-of-command. Despite Hillary taking responsibility while Secretary of State, the GOP wasn’t happy with the public’s indifference to Hillary’s role in the mishap.
Graham’s complaints on Benghazi pale in comparison to the unrealistic demands by Paul to fulfill his father, Rep. Rand Paul’s (R-Texas), dying wish to get Congressional accountability over the Federal Reserve Board. Since its charter in 1913, the Fed has remained independent of the U.S. government, despite representing a de facto agency of federal establishment. “As part of Senate consideration of the Janet Yellen nomination to be Chair of the Federal Reserve, I will request a vote on my bipartisan Federal Reserve Transparency Act, S.209,” said Paul, insisting on action before any Yellen vote. “The American people deserve transparency from the Federal Reserve and the federal government as a whole,” insisted Paul. No such demand for approval of a Fed Chairman has ever been made. While there’s logic to the demand, Congressional oversight would be unprecedented.
Paul’s bill requires an audit of the Federal Reserve Board by the Comptroller General, something that makes sense but has little Congressional support. “It is certainly appropriate for the Congress to monitor the job the Fed does, as the central bank is its creation. But I’m not sure holding up Janet Yellen’s appointment is the best way to do that,” said Gregory Mankiw, former head of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors [2000-2005], now a Harvard professor. When the historic economic meltdown happened in 2007-2008 under Bush’s watch, the Fed ordered the Treasury to print trillions of dollars to bailout major U.S. financial institutions. Despite showing only $6 trillion on its books, it’s estimated the Fed ordered the Treasury to print over $20 trillion to accommodate the massive losses and cash crunch to U.S. banks. If Paul gets its way, the Fed couldn’t do its job without oversight.
Paul’s attempt to block the first woman appointed to the Federal Reserve Board
won’t last too long. With 59-year-old Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke slated to retire Jan. 31, 2014, the Democratic-controlled Senate will press for Yellen’s vote. Paul’s issue with the Fed won’t be solved overnight nor can a qualified candidate be held up before he gets his way. While the independent Inspector General and Government Accountability Office review the activities, statements and reports, they don’t have access to the Fed’s inner workings, especially how much cash they order from the Treasury to keep the economy running on all cylinders. While Paul and Graham would like to hold up the Senate’s job on advice-and-consent, the president—and country—has a right to fill the positions. Holding up Senate votes to solve the mystery of the Federal Reserve isn’t realistic or practical.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.