By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The cast of voting members on the Federal Reserve's policy committee is changing this year. Their policies probably won't be.
Chairman Ben Bernanke will likely retain a solid majority on the 12-member committee for his drive to keep interest rates low well into the future despite critics who worry about the risks.
As the committee meets for the first time this year, Bernanke and the six other members of the Fed's board in Washington will keep their votes. So will William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. All have permanent votes. But among the presidents of the 11 other Fed regional banks, four are losing votes and four are gaining them.On Wednesday, when the Fed issues a statement after its two-day policy meeting, economists expect it to affirm that it expects to keep short-term rates near zero until unemployment dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent. It will also likely say it will keep spending $85 billion a month on bond purchases until the job market improves "substantially." The Fed's goal is to keep borrowing costs low to stimulate spending and economic growth. The rotation of the Fed's roster of voting members occurs at the start of each year. All 19 officials on the policy committee take part in the meetings, which are held eight times a year. But only 12 get to vote. Last year, Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, was the lone dissenter at each of the eight meetings. Lacker said he thought the job market was being slowed by factors beyond the Fed's control. He also argued that further bond purchases would risk worsening future inflation. With Lacker no longer a voting member, the Fed's policy decisions might be unanimous. But it isn't certain. Some others on the committee have also expressed concern that the Fed's low-rate policies could fan inflation or encourage speculative buying of assets like real estate or stocks.