Biden Names Economic Team as Pandemic Threatens Workers

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden smiles as he puts on his face mask after speaking to media in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 4. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

With unemployment still high and the pandemic threatening yet another economic slump, Joe Biden is assembling a team of liberal advisers who have long focused on the nation’s workers and government efforts to address economic inequality.

Janet Yellen, announced Monday as Biden’s nominee for treasury secretary, served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, when she placed a greater emphasis than previous Fed chairs on maximizing employment and less focus on price inflation. Biden also named Cecilia Rouse as chair of his Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), and Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein as members of the council.

All are outspoken supporters of more government stimulus spending to boost growth, a major issue with the coronavirus pandemic cramping the U.S. economy.

Those choices “signal the desire of the Biden administration to take the CEA in a direction that really centers on working people and raising wages,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and former Labor Department chief economist during the Obama administration.

Biden’s team also has years of experience in government and policymaking. And that’s earning plaudits from some conservatives, who note that the nominees are not a far-left group bent on strangling the economy, as President Donald Trump repeatedly warned during the 2020 campaign.

“They are intellectual liberals, but not burn-it-all-down socialists,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “They’re fairly conventional liberal economists and experts.”

Still, the Biden administration’s ambitious goals will face solid opposition from Republicans in Congress. The GOP needs to win one of two Georgia Senate seats in a Jan. 5 special election to retain control of the Senate, and the Republicans made major inroads on Nov. 3 in the Democrats’ House majority.

“Most of the policies that Biden ran on will not survive a Republican Senate,” Riedl said. Those include proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and significantly increase taxes on wealthy Americans.

Biden could secure another round of stimulus spending early next year, particularly if the recent spikes in confirmed virus cases push the economy into recession again. But such a package will likely have to come in under $1 trillion to get Senate Republican support, Riedl said, rather than the higher figure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seeking.

Brian Deese, a former senior economic adviser in the Obama administration and now the managing director and global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, is expected to be named director of the White House National Economic Council (NEC), according to a person familiar with transition plans who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Deese worked on the auto bailout and environmental issues in the Obama White House, where he held the title of deputy director of both the NEC and the OMB.

Deese has come under fire from progressives for their connections to BlackRock, a giant Wall Street asset management firm. BlackRock has sought to avoid greater regulatory scrutiny by Treasury. And many activists assail the firm for owning huge stakes in oil and gas companies.

Rouse, a labor economist and head of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, served on the CEA from 2009 to 2011, and served on the NEC from 1998 to 1999 in the Clinton administration.

Notably, she organized a letter earlier this year signed by more than 100 economists calling for more government action to help Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.