Newly Confirmed Cabinet Member Set to Push Biden's $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package


Janet Yellen was sworn in Tuesday as the nation’s 78th treasury secretary.

Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, was approved by the Senate on Monday on a 84-15 vote, becoming the third member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to win confirmation.

She is expected to play a key role in gaining congressional approval of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is running into stiff opposition from Republicans who believe the price tag is too high.

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the former Federal Reserve chairwoman had bipartisan support.

Schumer said Yellen, 74, has a “breathtaking range of experience” and support for her nomination reflected “just how well suited she is to manage the economic challenges of our time … particularly during this moment of economic crisis.”

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Before the approval by the full Senate, Yellen had received unanimous backing from the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans on the panel said they had a number of policy disagreements with Yellen and the Biden administration but believed it was important to allow Biden to assemble his economic team quickly.

“She can take complicated economic theories and put them into understandable language, all while showing a real heart for the millions of Americans who are hurting through no fault of their own,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said before the vote.

At her confirmation hearing before the Finance Committee last week, Yellen had argued that without prompt action the nation faced the threat of a “longer, more painful recession.”

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She urged quick action on the virus relief package that would provide an additional $1,400 in payments to individuals making below $75,000 annually as well as providing expanded unemployment benefits, further aid for small businesses and support for cities and states to prevent layoffs.

The plan also provides support for vaccine production and distribution.

Yellen faced substantial pushback on the plan from Republicans who argued that the package was too large, especially at a time when the federal budget deficit has soared above $3 trillion. They also objected to such measures as an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa told Yellen that Biden’s plan was a “laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms.”

An economist by training who worked as a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Yellen will represent the Biden administration in global financial affairs and lead a sprawling department whose responsibilities include overseeing IRS tax collections, making policy on banking regulations and serving as the administration’s contact with Wall Street.

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Since leaving the Federal Reserve in 2018, Yellen has been a distinguished fellow in residence at the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think tank.

According to financial disclosure forms she provided during her confirmation, she collected more than $7 million in speaking fees during more than 50 engagements over the past two years, including with many Wall Street firms. Yellen has agreed to recuse herself from decisions that would affect certain financial organizations.

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