Janet Yellen has been confirmed by the US Senate as the country’s 78th Secretary of the Treasury and the first woman to hold the position, putting her in charge of overseeing an economy that continues to be hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate endorsed Yellen in an 84-15 vote on Monday, placing her among President Joe Biden’s top cabinet picks to be confirmed. She will be sworn in later that evening by a Treasury official, according to a person familiar with the matter, becoming the second American to have served as both Chairman of the Federal Reserve and Secretary of the Treasury.
The 74-year-old was also the first woman to head the U.S. central bank, which she left in early 2018 after overseeing a rollback in monetary stimulus after the latest recession and its slow recovery. Now she’s back in crisis-fighting mode, this time as a senior economic official in the Democratic administration.
Yellen’s top priority will be to spur a weakened recovery amid record Covid-19 deaths, helping sell the $ 1.9 trillion Biden stimulus package that has met resistance from GOP lawmakers. It will also help shape policy toward China after the Trump administration’s legacy of confrontation and tariff hikes.
Other objectives include combating the economic risks of climate change, with plans to create a “hub” within the Treasury to examine the issue. She will also be responsible for fiscal policy, sanctions, the administration’s position on the dollar, government funding and the stability of the financial system.
“The symbolism and sense of technical expertise and decades of experience in Washington that Janet Yellen brings will bring immediate credibility” to Biden’s economic agenda, said Tim Adams, who served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for the George W. Bush administration and now heads the Institute of International Finance, a banking group. “Yellen will be a key pillar of the economic team.”
Yellen has been a pioneer throughout her career: she was the only woman in 24 students in 1971 to earn a doctorate in economics from Yale University. She then taught economics at Harvard and worked for over 16 years at the Fed, including a stint as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco during the financial crisis.
Yellen, born in Brooklyn, New York, follows G. William Miller, appointed by Jimmy Carter, who also served as Treasury secretary after serving as Fed chairman. She will be the first to hold those two positions and head the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a role she held in the Clinton administration.
She took a look at the challenges of the new job during her confirmation hearing at the Senate finance committee last week. His argument that it is essential to “act big” now with emergency deficit spending to avoid long-term “scars” in the economy has been rejected by Republican lawmakers expressing concern over the increase. the debt.
“Right now, in the short term, I think we can afford to get the economy back on its feet, to help us get through the pandemic,” Yellen told the committee. She highlighted the opportunity offered by historically low interest rates and noted that debt service payments as a share of the economy are lower today than before the 2008 financial crisis. .
It’s not just Republicans asking questions about Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion proposal. White House economic adviser Brian Deese was questioned on Sunday during an appeal with lawmakers on both sides on the basis of such a large package in the wake of the approved $ 900 billion relief bill last month. GOP members also vehemently criticized Biden’s inclusion of social safety net measures such as a minimum wage hike, which they have long opposed.
Another short-term priority for Biden and Yellen is to fill several senior treasury positions. The president appointed Wally Adeyemo, who worked in the Obama administration, to be the assistant secretary, a position that requires confirmation from the Senate. But appointments are still pending for key Under Secretary and Deputy Secretary positions, among others.
The president offered Fed veteran and financial regulation expert Nellie Liang the job of undersecretary for home finance, people familiar with the matter said last week, though no public announcement was made. . No person confirmed by the Senate has held the position since 2014, despite its importance in overseeing the issuance of US government debt.
The Treasury announced further staff appointments earlier on Monday, most notably for Mark Mazur, who will join as deputy under secretary for tax policy in the legislative affairs office. Natalie Earnest, who was the main spokesperson for the Treasury during the Obama administration, will be Yellen’s adviser.