Senate may vote on Bernanke as early as Friday-aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate may vote as early as Friday on whether to confirm Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a senior Democratic party aide said on Tuesday.

The aide said no decision had been made, but Friday is a possible date and Senate Democrats want to move on the nomination as soon as possible.

While there have been a number “holds” on the nomination by individual senators, Democratic leaders are expected to muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to clear Bernanke for anticipated confirmation.

Democrats expect to have the votes even if a Republican wins the special Senate election in Massachusetts on Tuesday to replace the late Edward Kennedy, a Democrat.

Bernanke faces an unusually high level of opposition, reflecting backlash against a painful financial crisis and anger at government bailouts for large financial firms amid high levels of unemployment and home foreclosures.

It is unclear whether Bernanke could continue to run the central bank if he is not confirmed before his term lapses January 31. Under law, the Fed’s vice chairman acts as head in the absence of a chairman.

However, on two previous occasions a chairman has not been confirmed by the time his term ended and has continued to lead the central bank. That is because in both instances, including as recently as 1996 when Alan Greenspan was Fed leader, the board was without a vice chairman and the chairman was elected by the board as chairman pro tempore.

The Fed currently has a vice chairman, Donald Kohn.

Senator Christopher Dodd, who heads the Banking Committee that held hearings on Bernanke’s nomination, has urged the Senate to act fast, saying that if he is not confirmed before the end of his term, Bernanke would cease to be chairman.

With additional reporting and writing by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Neil Stempleman and Carol Bishopric