Senate confirms Yellen as Federal Reserve chief

Yellen makes history by becoming first woman to head the US central banking system

Janet Yellen, Barack Obama's nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, at her confirmation hearing on Nov. 14, 2013, on Capitol Hill.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate launched its 2014 session Monday by confirming Janet Yellen to be the first woman to head the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history.

Yellen, 67, was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 26.

Yellen, who has been vice chair of the Fed since 2010, succeeds Ben Bernanke, whose second four-year term ends on Jan. 31.

The Democratic-controlled Senate had voted 59-34 in December to move forward with the nomination.

Yellen has been an unwavering advocate of the Fed's aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy as it has struggled to emerge from a severe recession. Yellen has emphasized that the government could do more to help decrease the number of unemployed Americans.

In late 2008, the Federal Reserve cut overnight interest rates — the rates at which banks lend funds to each other overnight — to near zero and has since conducted a series of massive bond-purchase programs intended to keep long-term borrowing costs low. 

The result has been a falling U.S. jobless rate, which hit a five-year low of 7 percent in November as the pace of economic growth has slowly increased.

Yellen's main task as head of the Federal Reserve will be to navigate the central bank's way out of its recent stimulus program, dialing down its current bond-buying, also known as "quantitative easing." The U.S. central bank trimmed that program to $75 billion per month, from $85 billion, at a much anticipated policy meeting last month.

During a mid-November Senate Banking Committee hearing on her nomination, Yellen defended the Fed's aggressive actions to foster economic growth and said, "I consider it imperative that we do what we can to promote a very strong recovery."

Some Republicans, though, have expressed concerns the Fed may have gone too far. 

"I think the economy has gotten used to the sugar you've put out there, and I just worry that we're on a sugar high," Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska said at the time. 


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