Economist Janet Yellen has moved a step closer to becoming the first woman to head the powerful U.S. central bank.
A Senate panel Thursday approved her nomination to become chair of the Federal Reserve when the current chairman, Ben Bernanke, leaves office at the end of January. The Senate Banking Committee voted 14-8 in her favor, with 11 Democrats supporting her as well as three Republicans.
President Barack Obama's nomination of the 67-year-old Yellen now will be considered by the full 100-member Senate, where analysts expect she will win approval in the coming weeks.
Yellen told the Senate panel last week that she favors the central bank's continued direct support of the American economy as it slowly, but steadily, recovers from the country's worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy," Yellen said.
The Fed has been buying $85 billion worth of securities a month for more than a year in an effort to pump more money into the economy, keep interest rates low and boost job growth. But some Republican critics of the central bank say the massive support of the economy could lead to rapid inflation if it is not ended soon.
Yellen, now the Fed's vice chair, gave no indication at her nomination hearing when the central bank might begin to trim back its economic stimulus measures. Fed officials are signaling that they intend to trim and eventually end the bond-buying program "in coming months," according to minutes of the policy makers' most recent meeting in late October that were released this week.
But that depends on how quickly the world's largest economy improves.
With increasing corporate profits and continued Fed support of the U.S. economy, stock indexes in the U.S. have risen in recent days to record heights. But unemployment remains high, pegged at 7.3 percent in October, well above the historical level in the U.S. of between 5 and 6 percent.