What Biden’s New Economic Team Signals About His Agenda

Yuval Rosenberg
·5-min read

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced his picks for top members of his economic team, with choices that signal a strong focus on providing relief for a Covid-stricken economy and help for the labor market — and likely less of an emphasis on deficit reduction, at least in the near term. Combined with Biden’s announcement of an all-female senior communications team, Biden’s picks also indicate the incoming administration’s attention to racial and gender diversity.

The choices formally announced include:

Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair and director of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. If confirmed, Yellen would be the first woman to run the Treasury Department in its 231-year history. “We face great challenges as a country right now,” Yellen said on Twitter. “To recover, we must restore the American dream—a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children. As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all.”

Adewale “Wally” Ademeyo as deputy Treasury secretary. Adeyemo, president of the Obama Foundation and former senior adviser at Wall Street giant BlackRock, has also served as deputy director of the National Economic Council, deputy national security advisor, and as the first chief of staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He would be the first Black deputy Treasury secretary.

Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton labor economist, to head the Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse was on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2011 and worked at the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration. She would be the first Black woman to lead the Council.

Jared Bernstein as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers. Bernstein, an adviser to the Biden campaign and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was chief economist to then-Vice President Biden during the Obama administration.

Heather Boushey as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers. Boushey is president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a liberal think tank focused on inequality, which she co-founded. She was also an adviser to the Biden campaign. “Both Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein come from a liberal, labor-oriented school of economics that views rising inequality as a threat to the economy and emphasizes government efforts to support and empower workers,” The New York Times reports.

Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden, who was an advisor to Hillary Clinton, would be the first Indian-American and first woman of color in the job. “After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden tweeted Monday. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Biden has reportedly also chosen Brian Deese, an executive at BlackRock and former Obama administration economic adviser, to head the National Economic Council, though that announcement may come later in the week.

Signaling Biden’s economic priorities: The announcement from Biden’s transition team underscored that the incoming administration will prioritize recovery from the pandemic and plans to focus on driving up wages while driving down unemployment and inequality.

The team “will help the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 and address the structural inequities in our economy,” Biden said in the statement. “They will work tirelessly to ensure every American enjoys a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead, and that our businesses can thrive and outcompete the rest of the world.”

That’s likely to mean a pursuit of additional stimulus and federal spending. “Mr. Biden’s selections include outspoken advocates for aggressive fiscal stimulus to help return the economy quickly to its pre-pandemic health, a cause that could run into resistance in a closely divided Congress,” Ken Thomas and Kate Davidson write at The Wall Street Journal. “The advisers are also known for advocating expanded government spending they say would boost the economy’s long-term potential, in areas that are liberal priorities such as education, infrastructure and the green economy, and policy changes aimed at narrowing racial disparities in the economy.”

Many of Biden’s nominees have explicitly called for deficit spending to address the pandemic and its economic effects. Boushey and Tanden were among the authors of a recent commentary titled “Deficit and Debt Shouldn’t Factor Into Coronavirus Recession Response.” And Yellen has made clear in congressional testimony and published op-eds that she firmly believes debt and deficit concerns should take a back seat to a more robust pandemic response. (For more on their approach to debt and deficits, see this piece in The New York Times.)

A fight ahead? Biden’s picks require Senate confirmation, and Tanden — known as an outspoken critic of President Trump and some others in the GOP — has already faced some backlash from Republicans who say she is too political and too progressive, even as she has in the past also clashed with some on the left.

“I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Monday. Drew Brandewie, a spokesperson for Cornyn, said she “stands zero chance of being confirmed” (the statement assumes Republicans will keep control of the Senate by holding onto at least one if not both Georgia Senate seats headed for a January 5 runoff election).

Even before the nominations were formally announced, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) slammed Tanden as a “partisan hack.” And Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called her selection a “sacrifice to the confirmation gods,” suggesting that her nomination may have been set up to fail so that other nominees would be more easily confirmed.

Biden is unlikely to have intended that, potentially setting up a clash over the nomination.

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