The Senate Finance Committee on Friday unanimously approved Janet Yellen’s nomination for Treasury secretary, sending her candidacy to the full Senate for a vote that could come as early as today.
The overwhelming support for Yellen suggests that she will have no problem clearing the final hurdle to confirmation, after which she will begin working with Congress to advance President Joe Biden’s plan for an additional $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
The Treasury chief wields expansive influence across the government, with a key role in shaping the administration’s stance on taxes, the economy and financial regulation, while also serving as an international diplomat with a hand in trade negotiations and sanctions policy.
But the immediate focus will be stemming the pain of the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.
“The pandemic has caused widespread devastation,” she told the committee earlier this week at her nomination hearing. “Whole industries have paused their work. Eighteen million unemployment insurance claims are being paid every week. Food bank shelves are going empty. The damage has been sweeping, and as the President-elect said last Thursday, our response must be, too.”
She also suggested Tuesday that Biden administration will wait until the economy is stronger before pushing tax increases on wealthier Americans and corporations. Yellen said the administration would move to raise taxes for other things, such as a plan to boost infrastructure spending, that would come after coronavirus relief legislation.
Meanwhile, the administration will have to chart a course on dealing with China; President Donald Trump left office with tariffs still in place on more than $350 billion worth of Chinese goods, as well as duties on steel and aluminum imports that implemented through his national security authorities.
Yellen told senators that the Biden administration would use all available tools to confront unfair Chinese trade practices but stopped short of endorsing Trump’s tariff tactics.
She is also under pressure from the left to focus on the interconnections between the financial system and climate change. Yellen said she plans to start a new Treasury “hub” that would examine financial system risks arising from climate change and on related tax policy incentives. She also intends to appoint a “very senior-level” official to lead climate efforts.
In written answers to senators released Thursday, Yellen also endorsed the idea of a higher minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage will lift tens of millions of Americans out of poverty while expanding access to opportunity for countless small businesses nationwide,” she wrote. “It matters how it’s implemented, and the President’s minimum wage will be phased in over time, giving small businesses plenty of time to adapt.”