Janet Yellen was elected the country's 78th Treasury Secretary and the first woman to hold the job by the Senate. She was responsible for overseeing an economy that continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate approved Yellen on Monday with 84 votes to 15, making it one of President Joe Biden's first cabinet members to be confirmed. She will be only the second American to serve as both Federal Reserve Chair and Secretary of the Treasury.
The 74-year-old was also the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, which she left in early 2018 after overseeing a withdrawal of monetary stimulus following the recent recession and slow recovery. Now she is back in crisis-fighting mode, this time as the top economic official in the democratic government.
Janet Yellen speaks during an event at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Alex Wong / Photographer: Alex Wong / Getty Im
Yellen's top priority will be to fuel a recovery that is weakening from the record Covid-19 deaths by helping to sell the $ 1.9 trillion Biden stimulus plan, which comes on opposition from GOP lawmakers bumps. It will also help shape policy toward China on the legacy of the Trump administration in terms of confrontation and tariff increases.
Further goals are to deal with the economic risks of climate change and the establishment of a "hub" in the Ministry of Finance to deal with the issue. She will also be responsible for tax policies, sanctions, the government's stance on the dollar, funding the government, and ensuring the stability of the financial system.
"The symbolism and sense of technical expertise and decades of Washington experience that Janet Yellen brings will make Biden instantly believable," said Tim Adams, who served as Undersecretary of the Treasury during the George W. Bush administration and now the Institute von heads International Finance, a banking group. "Yellen will be an important anchor for the business team."
Yellen has been a trailblazer throughout her career: she was the only woman of 24 students to graduate from Yale University in 1971 with a PhD in economics. She later taught economics at Harvard and worked for the Fed for more than 16 years, including serving as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco during the financial crisis.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Yellen succeeds Jimmy Carter-appointed G. William Miller, who also served as Treasury Secretary after his Fed presidency. She will be the first to have those two jobs, and will be head of the White House Economic Advisory Council, a role she had in the Clinton administration.
In her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee last week, she dealt early on with the challenges of the new job. Their argument that it is important to "trade big" now on emergency spending to avoid long-term "scars" on the economy has been rejected by Republican lawmakers, who raised concerns about rising debt.
"Right now, I think we can afford in the short term what it takes to get the economy back on its feet and get us through the pandemic," Yellen told the committee. She highlighted the opportunities presented by historically low interest rates and pointed out that debt service payments as a share of the economy are lower today than they were before the 2008 financial crisis.
It's not just Republicans who are asking questions about Biden's $ 1.9 trillion proposal. White House economic adviser Brian Deese was asked in a Sunday conversation with lawmakers from both parties about the basis of such a large package following the $ 900 billion pandemic aid bill approved last month. GOP members also loudly criticized Biden's inclusion of social safety net measures, such as an increase in the minimum wage, which they have long spoken out against.
Another short-term priority for Biden and Yellen is to fill several senior positions in the Treasury. The president appointed Wally Adeyemo, who served in the Obama administration, as deputy secretary, a position that needs Senate approval. However, nominations are still pending for key jobs as Undersecretary and Deputy Secretary.
The president has offered Nellie Liang, a Fed veteran and expert on financial regulation, the position of undersecretary for domestic finance, as those familiar with the matter said last week, despite no public announcement. There has not been a Senate-approved person in office as of 2014, although it is important to monitor US Treasury bond issuance.
The Treasury Department announced additional staffing on Monday, including for Mark Mazur, who will join the Legislative Office as deputy assistant secretary for tax policy. Natalie Earnest, chief spokeswoman for the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, will advise Yellen.