Treasury Department

Senate confirms Janet Yellen as first female Treasury secretary

Yellen’s top priority as Treasury secretary is to address the economic downturn

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The Senate on Monday confirmed Janet Yellen as the first woman to lead the Treasury Department, where her immediate priority will be addressing the coronavirus recession. Yellen, a Democrat, was confirmed by the Senate 84-15, with broad bipartisan support. All 15 no votes came from Republicans,.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved Yellen’s nomination last week, with Democrats and even Republicans touting her qualifications despite GOP opposition to much of President Biden’s economic agenda.

She is the third of Biden’s Cabinet nominees to be confirmed, following Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Yellen brings a wealth of policy experience to her new position. She served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, making her the first woman to hold that position, and was head of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.

"The bipartisan support for Ms. Yellen's multiple nominations reflects her breathtaking range of experience and just how well suited she is to manage the economic challenges of our time," said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday before Yellen was confirmed.

During her career, Yellen has been an advocate for using economic policy to close racial and gender gaps, a problem she says holds back the broader economy. She has also pushed for policies to address climate change, arguing it has the potential to adversely affect assets, credit and the financial system writ large.

Yellen’s top priority as Treasury secretary is to address the economic downturn.

During her confirmation hearing, she advocated for a $1.9 trillion relief package floated by Biden that includes enhanced unemployment benefits, $1,400 direct payments, funds for vaccine distribution, and aid to state and local governments.

"I expect we will have no shortage of spirited policy discussions with Dr. Yellen in the months ahead, especially if some Democrats keep trying to use this historic emergency as a pretext to push through permanent far-left policy changes," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday ahead of her confirmation vote.

"But the simple fact is that when the American people elect a president, and when the president selects qualified and mainstream people for key posts, the whole nation deserves for them to be able to assemble their team."

Republicans have indicated opposition to the size of the package and its impact on the national debt. Yellen has countered that the risks of too little stimulus are larger than the risks of too much government spending at this stage in the pandemic.

On taxes, Yellen has expressed support for Democratic proposals to expand the child tax credit, and said she would look into whether the IRS could make advance payments of the credit on a monthly basis.

Yellen noted that Biden wants to repeal portions of former President Trump’s 2017 tax law that benefit wealthy individuals and corporations. She noted that while tax increases aren’t Biden’s immediate concern, they could be included in a spending package down the line.

Yellen will wield significant influence over the global financial system and economy as the steward of the U.S. dollar and leader of several powerful federal panels.

She will play an integral role in Washington-Beijing relations. Yellen pledged during her confirmation hearing to use “the full array of tools” in the administration’s dealings with China, but stressed that a coordinated effort among U.S. allies is crucial to pressuring the world’s second-largest economy to implement market reforms.

As Treasury secretary, Yellen will chair the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which has the authority to block the purchase of U.S. companies by foreign firms if it deems the deal would threaten national security. Her predecessor at the Treasury Department, Steven Mnuchin, used that perch to prevent several deals that would have forced American firms to hand over valuable technology to Chinese counterparts.

Yellen’s confirmation also makes her head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a panel of federal financial regulators that can designate firms for stricter oversight and supervision. As Fed chair, Yellen fiercely defended the tougher regulatory regime imposed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and imposed the harshest penalty on a bank ever levied by the Fed in 2018 — a ban on growth for Wells Fargo.

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