President Barack Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve ensures continuity and sound judgment in an independent position as important as any other for the nation's economic health. Yellen, the Fed's vice chair, is known as a pragmatist with a heart. She should be confirmed by the Senate.
Yellen's facts and charts are coupled with a concern for how economic policies impact average people — exactly what is needed for someone overseeing an economy still fitfully recovering from the Great Recession. She is expected to continue Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's aggressive steps to reduce unemployment by adding liquidity to banks, a seamless handoff that will be good for stability. Yellen may not have been Obama's first choice, but he is right to trust her to steward monetary policy.
At the announcement of her nomination, Yellen said progress has been made on an economic recovery but more needs to be done for those hardest hit by the recession. She would keep concerns over unemployment front and center, while worrying less about inflation as long as it remains in check. So far that has been a winning formula for Bernanke, who has stimulated the economy with a massive asset-buying program known as quantitative easing that has kept interest rates low without spiking inflation. Without that foot on the accelerator, unemployment would undoubtedly be higher than the current 7.3 percent.
Yellen, 67, would be the first woman in control of the Fed and is well-qualified. When she was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, she warned about the housing bubble when others were still toasting the party. The willingness to question the operation of overheated markets has been lacking in other eras.
Lawrence Summers was reportedly Obama's top pick but bowed out of consideration after Democratic senators expressed their opposition. He is a lightning rod with a prickly personality who had been part of the Clinton economic team that deregulated derivatives, which contributed to outsized risk-taking by Wall Street and the financial crisis of 2008.
In contrast, Yellen is known as a consensus builder who is well-prepared. She will have to be as she navigates the Senate confirmation process and faces opposition from Republicans who oppose the Fed's $85 billion monthly asset-buying program. But Yellen's command of the economic complexities and demonstrated foresight suggest she is well-qualified for the job and should be confirmed.