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Senate Confirms Janet L. Yellen as Treasury Secretary

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WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed that Janet L. Yellen, a labor economist and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, became Secretary of the Treasury on Monday, establishing a key lieutenant for President Biden at a dangerous economic moment when the new administration is trying to revive an economy that was becoming Beaten by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate confirmed Ms. Yellen with 84 to 15 votes, making her the first woman in her 232-year history to hold the top position in the Ministry of Finance. Her quick bipartisan endorsement underscored the support she has received from both Republicans and Democrats as she served as Fed chair from 2014 to 2018.

Ms. Yellen now faces a new and significant challenge. As Secretary of the Treasury, she will be responsible for helping Mr Biden prepare the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package he proposed, steer it through Congress and, if approved, deploy trillion US dollars. Monitor dollars in aid.

The scale of the task became apparent over the weekend when a non-partisan group of senators practically met with senior White House officials on Sunday and expressed doubts that such a large package was necessary.

Legislators of both parties have raised the prospect of narrowing down the elements of the proposal, including eligibility for a proposed round of $ 1,400 checks to individuals and ensuring a more targeted distribution of additional aid, according to several people familiar with the discussion. They also asked the White House to provide data that would justify the proposed spending, including $ 350 billion in state and local aid and $ 130 billion in reopening schools that were closed by the pandemic.

Now Ms. Yellen will get in the middle of the talks, convincing many Republicans and some Democrats that the economy needs another billion dollar package of spending. In her confirmation hearing and in written replies to lawmakers, Ms. Yellen reiterated Mr. Biden’s view that Congress must “act big” to save the economy from long-term scars and defended the use of borrowed money to fund another Without doing so, workers and families would be worse off.

“The auxiliary bill at the end of last year was just a deposit to get us through the next few months,” said Ms. Yellen. “We still have a long way to go before our economy fully recovers.”

Ms. Yellen also argued that “short-term tax support is not incompatible with long-term financial sustainability,” explaining that a healthier economy would ultimately generate more revenue for the government.

The Biden administration hopes a package can win bipartisan support in Congress. However, Democrats have signaled their willingness to move to a budgetary mechanism known as reconciliation, which will allow them to pass the legislation by simple majority and bypass the usual required 60-vote threshold.

David Wessel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where Ms. Yellen most recently worked, said her credibility with both Republicans and progressive Democrats makes her likely to play a key role in working with Congress. He suggested that because of Mr. Biden’s long history in the Senate, Ms. Yellen could be less involved in haggling with lawmakers and be employed to advance the economic case for certain policy measures.

Updated

Jan. 25, 2021, 8:23 p.m. ET

“I assume they will use them as an asset when they need an expert,” said Wessel. “Especially when some people need to be persuaded to do something.”

While it received the support of many Republicans, several voted against its endorsement, including Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. Mr Sullivan said in the Senate that he voted against Ms. Yellen for refusing to advocate “all of the above” energy policies, including natural gas and oil. Ms Yellen gave priority to tackling climate change and creating clean energy incentives in the Treasury.

“In fact, I found it shocking,” Sullivan said, noting that he had made the decision to vote against Ms. Yellen’s endorsement as she qualified highly.

In addition to negotiating with lawmakers, Ms. Yellen will have a responsibility to be the United States’ top economic diplomat in times of frayed global tension. Ms. Yellen will have to try to fix America’s economic ties around the world, including with allies like Canada, Mexico and the European Union, which were strained under President Donald J. Trump.

These relationships will be vital in the light of the Biden government’s plan to try to combat China’s economic practices, which Ms. Yellen has described as “illegal, unfair and abusive,” by gathering allies to put pressure on Beijing.

At her confirmation hearing, Ms. Yellen said that China “is employing practices that give it an unfair technological advantage” and that the government is ready to use America’s “full range of tools” to address this. One of their first challenges will be to review the trade deal Mr Trump made with Beijing, including China’s failure to meet its commitments, and determine whether the United States should comply with tariffs on Chinese goods worth $ 360 billion.

In the longer term, Ms. Yellen plans to help implement Mr. Biden’s tax proposals, which include higher corporate tax and tax increases for the rich.

Ms. Yellen plans to make other major changes in the Finance Department’s mission, including using her powers to assess the economic risks of climate change and create incentives to support clean energy technologies. It will also focus on promoting policies that reduce racial inequality.

“It is the Treasury Secretary’s responsibility to strengthen the US economy, promote general economic prosperity, and promote an economic agenda that leads to long-term economic growth,” said Ms. Yellen in a written response to lawmakers Thursday has been published.

Ms. Yellen will be under pressure to quickly fill a finance department that was exhausted under her predecessor, Steven Mnuchin. Her deputy, Wally Adeyemo, will need Senate approval, and Ms. Yellen will have to choose from among secretaries whether to oversee international affairs, sanctions and domestic finances.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced a chief of staff, Didem Nisanci, and a team of senior advisors, many of whom served in the Obama administration, would work with Ms. Yellen. On Monday, the Treasury Department announced another roster of appointments, including the appointment of Mark J. Mazur, a former senior tax officer under the Obama administration, as deputy assistant secretary for taxation in the Legislative Office.

Emily Cochrane contributed to the coverage.

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Robert Dunfee