WASHINGTON — Janet L. Yellen, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s nominee for Treasury secretary, vowed on Tuesday to pursue insurance policies to assist staff whose livelihoods have been upended by the pandemic as she warned lawmakers that the U.S. economic system confronted a painful stretch earlier than coronavirus vaccines have been absolutely deployed.
Ms. Yellen made her feedback at her affirmation listening to earlier than the Senate Finance Committee. A former Federal Reserve chair, she enjoys bipartisan assist and is predicted to win affirmation. However the listening to underscored the challenges that the Biden administration will face in attempting to place its financial agenda into place, with Republican lawmakers drawing early battle strains and voicing opposition to the $1.9 trillion stimulus bundle that Mr. Biden has proposed, together with different tax and spending plans.
With Democrats holding a slim majority within the Home and narrowly controlling the Senate, Mr. Biden might have the assist of Republicans to get a few of his priorities by way of Congress. However on Tuesday these lawmakers resurrected considerations about including to the federal funds deficit to argue in opposition to Mr. Biden’s plans and expressed continued opposition to a number of of his priorities, together with sending extra support to states and native governments, boosting unemployment advantages and elevating the minimal wage.
“We’re taking a look at one other spending blowout,” mentioned Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “The one organizing precept I can perceive, it appears, is to spend as a lot cash as attainable, seemingly for the sake of spending it.”
Ms. Yellen, a labor economist, made an assertive case that the best long-term menace to the nation was not the federal funds deficit however doing too little to assist staff.
“With out additional motion, we danger an extended, extra painful recession now and long-term scarring of the economic system later,” she mentioned.
She emphasised the significance of guaranteeing that the restoration efforts accounted for the wants of girls and minorities, who have been susceptible going into the disaster and who’ve been bearing the brunt of the financial fallout.
The listening to showcased the stark variations within the policymaking that’s about to grip Washington. From China and local weather change to tax coverage and financial institution regulation, the Biden administration is ready to reverse course sharply from the route set by President Trump.
Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bundle would offer $1,400 in direct funds to the general public, extra expanded unemployment insurance coverage, cash for states and cities, and a strong funding in well being care spending to roll out vaccines and testing capability. Though Congress handed a $900 billion bundle final month, the economic system is displaying indicators of stalling as employers shed jobs and vaccinations have fallen short of the government’s goals.
Mr. Biden, who served within the Senate for 36 years, has mentioned he needs to deliver Republicans on board for his plan. It’s not clear, nevertheless, to what extent Democrats in Congress will attempt to work with Republicans on the laws or if they’ll attempt to push their priorities by way of utilizing a mechanism referred to as funds reconciliation, which requires solely a easy majority within the Senate.
And whereas Mr. Biden has urged mentioned that he needs an preliminary bundle centered squarely on the pandemic, some lawmakers, similar to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the incoming Finances Committee chairman, are already calling for tax will increase on the rich.
Republicans pressed Ms. Yellen on the tax insurance policies she would pursue and whether or not the White Home would attempt to reverse Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. She mentioned any transfer to lift taxes would come solely after the well being disaster abated.
“The main focus proper now’s on offering aid and on serving to households hold a roof over their heads and meals on the desk, and never on elevating taxes,” she mentioned.
Nonetheless, Ms. Yellen made clear that the Biden administration would search for methods to make use of tax coverage to enhance the financial lives of middle- and low-income households. “I consider in a good and progressive tax code the place rich people and firms pay their fair proportion,” she mentioned. “We now have to rebuild our economic system in order that it builds extra prosperity for extra staff.”
Different Republicans on the committee challenged Ms. Yellen with acquainted complaints about Democratic-backed financial insurance policies. They warned that elevating the federal minimal wage to $15 an hour from $7.25, as Mr. Biden needs to do, would hurt struggling small companies. They usually argued that one other spherical of stimulus checks would give cash to many individuals who didn’t want it.
“Now isn’t the time to enact a laundry checklist of liberal structural financial reforms,” mentioned Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who in the intervening time stays the chairman of the committee.
Showing on the listening to by videoconference, Ms. Yellen, 74, calmly rebutted the critiques of her proposals. “There are numerous households which might be bearing distinctive monetary burdens that aren’t addressed by unemployment compensation,” she mentioned.
Regardless of backing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and extra authorities spending below Mr. Trump, Republicans have been sounding more and more hawkish concerning the nationwide debt since Mr. Biden gained the election. Questioned about how america may afford the insurance policies that Democrats are proposing, Ms. Yellen argued that such proposals have been fiscally accountable.
“To keep away from doing what we have to do now to handle the pandemic and the financial harm that it’s inflicting would doubtless depart us in a worse place economically and with respect to our debt scenario than doing what’s mandatory,” she mentioned.
Pressed on the minimal wage, Ms. Yellen pointed to analysis that has discovered little proof of the type of large-scale job losses and different harm that enterprise lobbying teams have voiced sturdy considerations about over time. As an example, when one state raised the minimal wage and a neighboring state didn’t, the job losses within the state with the rise have been minimal, she mentioned.
Addressing the pandemic is Ms. Yellen’s high precedence, however she signaled a vastly completely different strategy to the Treasury Division from the one taken by the person she would change, Steven Mnuchin.
The Treasury secretary is the nation’s high financial diplomat, and Ms. Yellen can be tasked with repairing relationships all over the world after 4 years of Mr. Trump’s inflammatory ways. Probably the most essential strategic relationship is with China, she mentioned, and she or he intends to corral American allies to stress to finish China’s “unlawful, unfair and abusive” practices.
The remarks indicated that Ms. Yellen believes that the commerce deal that Mr. Trump signed with China a 12 months in the past is inadequate and that his technique of bilateral haggling over tariffs had failed. However that isn’t to recommend that the Biden administration will take a extra accommodating strategy. Ms. Yellen mentioned she would make sure that the “full array” of financial instruments could be deployed to fight Chinese language misbehavior, and she or he referred to as the Chinese language authorities out for “horrendous human rights abuses.”
The Treasury Division below Ms. Yellen would additionally place a powerful emphasis on local weather change and the chance that rising temperatures pose to the monetary system. She mentioned she would appoint a senior official accountable for local weather issues on the division, create a “hub” to evaluate monetary dangers and research tax incentives for electrical automobiles and different environmentally pleasant insurance policies.
The Trump administration has questioned the science behind the causes of local weather change, and Mr. Mnuchin has fought to maintain mentions of local weather change out of joint statements at worldwide financial summits. Regardless of driving an electrical automotive, he didn’t assume the trade needs to be backed.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who’s in line to develop into the Finance Committee’s chairman, mentioned he hoped Ms. Yellen would obtain a vote on the ground of the Senate as early as Thursday.
Eight former Treasury secretaries signed a letter on Tuesday calling for her swift affirmation and describing her credentials as unequalled. In a notice to Treasury workers on his final full day on the job, Mr. Mnuchin wished Ms. Yellen “nice success.”