President Barack Obama may have dropped a hint this week about the future of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose term is set to expire early next year.
In an interview Monday night with Charlie Rose on PBS, Obama said Bernanke has been at the helm of the world’s most powerful central bank “longer than he wanted or he was supposed to,” suggesting the 59-year-old will step down.
The comments from Obama, who has the power to nominate the next Fed chief, mirror the thinking in Washington that Bernanke is ready to pass the torch to someone else after his historic term navigating the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
“Ben Bernanke’s done an outstanding job,” Obama added in the interview on PBS, comparing him to longtime FBI Director Robert Mueller, who stayed on two years longer than he had planned to.
Obama punted when asked directly if he would reappoint Bernanke should he want to keep the position.
“He has been an outstanding partner, along with the White House, in helping us recover much stronger than, for example, our European partners, from what could have been an economic crisis of epic proportions,” Obama said.
A Fed spokesman declined to comment on the remarks by Obama.
First appointed by former President Bush in 2006, Bernanke was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 2010 after being re-nominated by Obama.
About 29% of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal in early April predicted Bernanke will stay on for a third term, while 46% bet Obama will tap Janet Yellen, the current Fed vice chair, as the central bank’s first female chair.
Another 25% of economists polled believe Obama will select another person for the pivotal post, leaving room for alternatives like former Treasury Secretaries Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, influential Princeton economist Alan Blinder or a number of other candidates.
Whoever is chosen will have the challenging task of unwinding the Fed's bloated $3 trillion balance sheet to avoid sparking a bout of inflation, but not before the U.S. economy is healthy enough to stand on its own.