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Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing for Treasury secretary centers on the pandemic. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing for Treasury secretary centers on the pandemic.

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Janet L. Yellen, President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s nominee to be Treasury secretary, said at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday that investing in vaccine distribution and expanded jobless benefits will provide the biggest “bang” for the economy in a future stimulus package to help Americans get through the current “dark” economic time.

Speaking before the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. Yellen said that her core focus will be on helping struggling workers find good jobs and receive better wages, and she laid out the impact that the pandemic has had on the economy.

“It’s been particularly brutal in its impact on minorities and on women,” Ms. Yellen said.

The Treasury nominee said that additional stimulus measures should be focused on those who have been hardest hit and that expanding unemployment insurance and food stamps benefits would be a critical way to do this. The most pressing priority, however, is spending to ensure that the vaccine is quickly and widely distributed so that the pandemic can be ended and normal economic activity can resume, she said.

With Democrats set to take control of the Senate, the hearing lacked some of the contentiousness that was on display when Trump administration nominees sat for confirmation hearings.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the finance committee, said that “nobody could be better qualified for this job” than Ms. Yellen.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the current Republican chairman of the committee, pressed Ms. Yellen to ensure that the Biden administration does not raise taxes on the middle class and small businesses. He also urged her to cooperate transparently with Congressional oversight. However, he offered no critique about her qualifications for the job.

Yet areas of tension do exist, including the Biden administration’s plans to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations and to increase spending to combat the pandemic.

Republican senators, including Mr. Grassley, asked Ms. Yellen to commit to not raising taxes on small businesses and also questioned whether she was going to roll back the 2017 tax package that President Trump pushed through without any Democratic support.

Ms. Yellen said that Mr. Biden does not plan to repeal the entire 2017 tax law, but that after the pandemic is over he will look to reverse provisions in the law that benefit the rich and big corporations.

Ms. Yellen demurred when asked whether she would oppose any effort to repeal a cap that lawmakers placed on state and local tax deductions as part of the 2017 tax overhaul. That limit has primarily hurt higher earners in high-tax, largely blue states and many Democrats have pushed to lift the cap.

Ms. Yellen said she believes “in a fair and progressive tax code where wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share” but that she would want to “study and evaluate what the impact has been on state and local governments” before making a decision.

Republicans also pressed Ms. Yellen on the federal deficit, which ballooned under Mr. Trump’s watch as he pushed through tax cuts and higher government spending even before the pandemic hit.

Ms. Yellen agreed that the “long-term fiscal trajectory is a cause for concern” but said the economy will suffer severe damage without more financial help during the pandemic.

“To avoid doing what we need to do now to address the pandemic and the economic damage that it’s causing would likely leave us in a worse place economically and with respect to our debt situation than doing what’s necessary,” she said.


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