President-Elect Biden is preparing for his presidency at a time when the country is weathering multiple crises. Cases of COVID-19 and the resulting death toll are rising tragically.
And the economic fallout of the virus is shuttering America’s businesses, leaving millions out of work and widening the chasm between wealthy and low-income Americans.
A president-elect’s economic nominees always draw a great deal of attention, and the precarious economic situation in America makes Biden’s selections especially noteworthy.
Here are some key takeaways from the economic team announcements:
Steady hands on the wheel: Biden’s selections have previous experience in the Obama and Clinton administrations. At a time of turbulence and uncertainty in our country, these battle-tested individuals project competency and calm.
Commitment to diversity: Three of the five individuals selected are women and two are African American. Indeed, if confirmed, we will see the first female Treasury Secretary and the first African American Deputy Treasury Secretary in the history of our country.
COVID-19 response: Their immediate focus will be on creating a robust fiscal support package to help struggling Americans and create economic growth. In the longer term, they will likely push for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans to fund additional job creation measures and address the mounting deficit. Of note, the results of the Georgia runoffs will determine who controls the U.S. Senate and therefore the probability of the administration being able to achieve significant changes to tax policy.
Largely confirmable: While policy rifts may exist, these individuals are experienced and competent. Assuming Republicans retain control, they will likely confirm these nominees in short order, save for one (more on that below).
Support for workers: These individuals have demonstrated a desire to fight for workers’ rights through support for unions, higher wages, and greater equality.
Secretary, U.S. Department of the Treasury: Janet Yellen
As former chair of both the Federal Reserve and the Council of Economic Advisors, Janet Yellen is unquestionably competent, well-known, and respected by lawmakers – many of whom will put her negotiation skills to the test in the most immediate challenge of passing a fiscal support package.
While often thought of as a domestic role, the Treasury Secretary serves as one of the U.S. Government’s top diplomats. Yellen’s existing relationships and rapport with finance ministers and central bank governors will serve her well in this regard. The left will welcome having an economist back at the U.S. Treasury vs. a Wall Street executive. And her advocacy of a fair labor market will dovetail nicely with Biden’s desire to strengthen consumer protections and equality in lending.
Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Treasury: Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo
The Treasury Department will be familiar territory to Adeyemo, if confirmed. He previously served as Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council for President Barack Obama, senior advisor and deputy chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and chief of staff to then acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director, Elizabeth Warren.
The Treasury Department is charged with bolstering national security through applying economic sanctions and targeting illicit finance, as well as working with international financial institutions, representing the U.S. on international bodies, engaging with multilateral development banks, and scrutinizing foreign investment. Amid the economic fallout of COVID-19, Adeyemo will likely play a large role in these areas while Yellen focuses on stabilizing the U.S. economy and working with foreign counterparts on a global macroeconomic agenda.
Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB): Neera Tanden
Tanden has deep experience in domestic policy and is noted as a “key architect” of the Obama-era healthcare bill, the Affordable Care Act. If confirmed, Tanden’s role at OMB will draw on both her policy experience and extensive work on presidential campaigns as she runs point on implementing and enforcing the president’s agenda across the federal departments and agencies.
Tanden currently runs the Center for American Progress, and her history of partisan comments against the Republican senators on tap to confirm her has caused some bristling. Senior senators have responded to Biden’s pick by saying Tanden has “no chance” of being confirmed, calling her “radioactive,” and suggesting her nomination was a “misstep” by the president-elect.
Chair, Council of Economic Advisors (CEA): Cecilia Rouse
If Rouse is confirmed, Biden will be the third U.S. president for whom she has served over the past 20 years, having previously worked for President Clinton’s NEC and President Obama’s CEA.
As an academic economist, Rouse will be charged with running the White House’s de facto economic think tank, utilizing research and data to advise the president’s economic policy agenda. From this position, Rouse will likely be a driving force behind improving economic and racial equality in education and the labor market.
Rouse will be re-joining the executive branch from her role as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Director, National Economic Council (NEC): Brian Deese
Deese is another familiar face from the Obama administration, having served in senior roles at NEC and the Office of Management and Budget.
At the helm of the NEC, Deese will be charged with advising Biden on economic policy issues and coordinating the administration’s economic policy agenda across the executive branch.
In the short term, Deese will likely push for deep investments in infrastructure as part of a larger fiscal support package. Longer term, Deese’s experience on climate change – both for President Obama and as head of sustainable investing for BlackRock, Inc. – will be tapped to help advance Biden’s green agenda.