Rep. Ron Paul and Ben Bernanke are locked in a clash of titans.
Paul, the 74-year-old House libertarian from Texas with the high-pitched voice, has fought for decades to kill off the Federal Reserve.
Bernanke, the ex-Princeton professor and chairman of the bank, is waging a high-stakes battle for the Fed. And he’s doing everything possible to knock out Paul.
The fight is still in the early rounds. But with the full House expected to vote this week to give government auditors more power to scrutinize the Fed, Paul has the upper hand.
The Senate is a much more difficult round for Paul, though a similar stew of liberal and conservative support is starting to simmer in the upper chamber behind the Republican’s wonky auditing measure.
The battle has taken place in public — on blogs, with grassroots activists and during congressional hearings.
Bernanke has testified against the provision, given lengthy media interviews, written op-eds and attempted to lift the cloud of secrecy that hangs over the bank.
Paul, a longstanding supporter of a new gold standard, made his case formally in his recently published book, End the Fed.
The 2008 presidential candidate’s crusade is no longer a quixotic quest. He is a prime beneficiary of the grassroots anger this year against government bailouts for Wall Street.
First introduced in February, Paul’s bill to audit the Fed has gained 317 co-sponsors, a shocking three-quarters of the House. The bill has not won over many Democrats in leadership, but it has picked up several committee chairmen, including Reps. Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Jim Oberstar (Minn.) and John Spratt (S.C.).
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a prominent Paul ally on the bill, has provided a huge boost to the effort with his firebrand strain of liberal politics.
Grayson has publicly slammed the Fed, going so far as calling its top lobbyist a “K Street whore.”
Paul himself said the full force of “lobbyists for the Fed” is stacked against him.
As the popularity of the Paul-Grayson measure rose this year, Bernanke’s fell.
A Rasmussen poll in November showed that just 21 percent of those surveyed thought Bernanke should be reappointed. Meanwhile, 79 percent of those polled said auditing the Fed is a good idea.
In the Senate, Paul has found support from Sens. Jim DeMint, the conservative Republican from South Carolina, and Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont who calls himself a proud socialist.
A left-right coalition of interest groups on the outside is joining forces against Bernanke.