Yellen sails through after 'act big' talk

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 27 Jan 2021

The US Senate has voted by a wide margin to confirm Janet Yellen as the first woman to lead the Treasury Department, giving her a key role in negotiations over a huge Covid-19 economic relief package.

Yellen is not new to the role of trailblazer as she also was the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, from 2014 to 2018, and previously the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

Her immediate job will be to help win Congress approval for President Joe Biden's US$1.9 trillion (HK$14.82 trillion) package to secure US economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

That will entail convincing skeptical lawmakers that the benefit of more spending outweighs concerns about the country's soaring debt level.

"Neither [Biden], nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country's debt burden," Yellen told the Senate finance committee at her confirmation hearing.

"But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big."

Earlier, Biden said while he would prefer bipartisan support for his stimulus plan, time is of the essence.

"If we don't invest now, we're going to lose so much altitude in terms of our employment base and our economic growth, it's going to be harder to reestablish it," he said.

But Democrats control the Senate only with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, so getting the package through may require support from Republicans.

Democratic senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the finance committee, called Yellen an "exceptional economist" who is "supremely qualified" to lead the Treasury at a critical time.

Yellen also will have a role in enforcing trade rules, and repairing relations after the multifront trade wars pursued by one-term president Donald Trump.

In the most contentious relations with China, Yellen has pledged to use all available tools to address its "abusive unfair and illegal practices" that undermine the US economy.

She said Beijing has been "undercutting American companies" with a series of policies, including illegal subsidies, dumping of products, theft of intellectual property and barriers to US goods.

But while Yellen agreed that "China is clearly, our most important strategic competitor," unlike Trump, she stressed that it will be important "to work with our allies" to combat the challenge.

The Senate was to vote on confirmation of Antony Blinken as secretary of state yesterday.

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