The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to leave interest rates near zero and restate its vow to keep them low for an extended period.

Fed officials are also likely to debate their exit strategy from an unprecedented dose of monetary stimulus employed to counter the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Nonetheless, the central bank's policy statement, expected around 2:15 p.m. (1915 GMT), will almost certainly reiterate the Fed's low rate pledge, particularly given jittery financial markets and a spotty economic recovery.

Weak holiday-period retail sales and further setbacks in the battered U.S. housing market have dampened talk of any immediate rush for the doors. Instead, policy-makers will continue to debate the merit of various tools that might be used to drain credit from the banking system.

While no substantive policy announcements are expected, investors are curious as to whether the Fed will soon raise the discount rate it charges banks for emergency loans, and will parse the statement for any clues such a move is imminent.

The Fed gathers amid a firestorm in Washington over Ben Bernanke's nomination to a second term as chairman of the U.S. central bank. Once expected to sail through the Senate, his confirmation vote ran into stiff resistance last week, sending Wall Street, which strongly backs the chairman, sharply lower on Friday.

Financial markets, which took a drubbing last week, have stabilized as Bernanke's confirmation began looking more certain. The latest Reuters tally showed 48 out of 100 senators were likely to vote for Bernanke, while 19 vowed to vote against him. The rest remain undecided.

The Senate will take up the nomination on Thursday with a vote to overcoming procedural roadblocks. A final confirming vote could also come the same day.

Bernanke's term expires on January 31, at which point Vice Chairman Donald Kohn would likely take over if the vote has not yet gone through.