U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio should tell Janet Yellen, "It's not you, it's me." The Florida Republican announced last week he will oppose Yellen's nomination for chairman of the Federal Reserve, listing broad policy reasons for his objection. But the real reason Rubio opposes the highly qualified Yellen is a cynical political calculation. He is still trying to regain support from tea party followers that he lost over working for bipartisan immigration reform. He is rejecting a top nominee because she's President Barack Obama's pick and opposing the president appeals to his base. The president's nominees should be evaluated on their merits, and Yellen deserves to be confirmed by the Senate based on her record.
Rubio said that while Yellen is an "accomplished individual," he cannot support her nomination to take over the central bank. He points specifically to her role in developing the current monetary policy. She is the number two at the Fed behind Chairman Ben Bernanke and has promised to maintain continuity in her stewardship of the economy.
Rubio claims the Fed policy of keeping interest rates low combined with its massive bond-buying program — designed to stimulate growth and reduce unemployment — "has created asset bubbles and financial uncertainty that limits our economic potential." Rubio doesn't give details of those bubbles or limits. Maybe that's because his claims are weak.
Opponents of the Fed's decision to buy $85 billion per month of bonds complain that it weakens the dollar and will spike inflation. But even after the Fed has bought more than $4 trillion worth so far, inflation has remained in check. The unemployment rate, currently 7.3 percent, is creeping downward and more people are back to work. A tapering of the program is expected after unemployment benchmarks are reached. Rubio would have the central bank disregard the pain of the country's unemployed and return to single-mindedly policing inflation, even though inflation has not significantly risen and some economists argue a bit more of it actually would be a good thing.
If Rubio is worried about asset bubbles he should be less concerned about Yellen than the Fed getting another Alan Greenspan, whose hands-off approach to the banks' reckless mortgage lending resulted in a giant housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis. As president of the San Francisco Fed from 2004 to 2010, Yellen sounded warnings about housing bubbles that went unheeded.
Other Republican senators have been more willing to evaluate Yellen on her merits. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee announced his support after her confirmation hearing before a Senate banking committee. The committee approved her nomination Thursday by a vote of 14-8. Yellen is the first woman nominated to be Fed chairman.
Since her nomination, Senate Democrats have altered the filibuster rules to require a simple majority for confirmation of executive and judicial presidential nominees, except for U.S. Supreme Court appointments. That means Yellen will no longer need to win 60 votes and, with 55 senators voting with the Democratic caucus, she should easily win confirmation. But Rubio should not be rejecting someone with Yellen's standout credentials. He should put the country before catering to the most extreme wing of his political party.