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Forget tapering, here's the really big Fed deal

President Obama and Larry Summers in file photo.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
President Obama and Larry Summers in file photo.

All of the focus at the Federal Reserve these days is on who the next chairman will be, and when the central bank starts pulling back on its monthly money printing operation.

Beneath the surface, though, lies a fascinating subtext of whether the Fed is setting up for an ideological cleansing that could last the next decade and a half.

By virtually all accounts, the race to succeed Ben Bernanke is between Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, with the former suddenly considered a prohibitive favorite.

Whoever takes over could be running a group with decidedly different composition.

(Read more: Why is the Fed so sad?)

As many as five of the seven Fed regional governors either are facing the end of their terms or are expected to leave early.

Should that transpire, President Barack Obama would be in a position not only to determine a new public face for the central bank but also the philosophical composition.

The scorecard looks like this: If Yellen does not get the chairmanship, it's speculated that the 67-year-old economist and professor will retire next year.

Obama already has nominated Sarah Bloom Raskin as deputy Treasury secretary, Elizabeth Duke has resigned effective Aug. 31, and the interim term to which Jerome Powell had been appointed ends Jan. 14.

(Read more: Cashin: Bernanke's worrying parallel to the 1930s)

That would leave just Daniel Tarullo and Jeremy Stein of the seven governors, who comprise more than half the voting members on the Open Markets Committee (the other five are chosen from the 12 regional presidents).

Obama, then, would have a shot to make a big statement about Fed direction for the next 14 years, which is the amount of time the staggered terms run.

The president has been a bit of a cipher when it comes to his views on the $85 billion a month bond-buying program in which the Fed is engaged, though a Summers appointment indicates an easing bias as well as a deregulatory stance toward the financial system.

(Read more: Keep printing? Fed stays in game, but exit looms)

Fed-watchers in the market are taking notice and starting to horse trade a bit.

Art Cashin, director of floor operations at the New York Stock Exchange for UBS, remarked on the set-up:

So you see, if you could get a like-minded group of people confirmed, they could influence monetary policy (and the American economy) for years. That's why some folks seem to be so intently focused on the process right now.

Of course, the FOMC is not exactly known for dissent.

The chairman usually has enough clout to get all the other members in line, with policy votes featuring a token vote or two of dissent and some minor grumbling here or there about language in the statement that eventually comes out.

(Read more: Why tapering talk may be a 'temporary sideshow')

But with monetary policy at a crossroads and the Fed left to figure out how to unwind its $3.6 trillion balance sheet in an orderly manner, the direction charted now will be nonetheless crucial.

By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.

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