Yellen Nomination Sails Through Senate Panel; Final Vote Set for Monday

January 24, 2021 Updated: January 24, 2021

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 22 unanimously approved Janet Yellen’s nomination as the first woman Treasury secretary, indicating that she will easily win full Senate approval, but Republicans called for her to work with them in developing economic policies.

The full Senate will vote on Yellen’s nomination on Jan. 25, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor, which if successful will allow her to get to work promptly on President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Her nomination was approved 26–0 in the evenly split committee, with concerns expressed by Republicans about Biden’s ambitious plans for massive coronavirus relief spending, infrastructure investment, and tax hikes failing to sway them against the former Federal Reserve chair.

“I have very strong disagreements with Dr. Yellen on a number of her positions, particularly in the tax policy arena, but she has committed to us that she will work with us,” Republican Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said after the vote.

“And I think the strong vote on our side to support her today is an indication that we want to engage.”

Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and has pledged to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure, green energy projects, education, and research to boost American competitiveness.

At Yellen’s confirmation hearing before the committee on Jan. 19, Republicans expressed concerns over the price tag and increased debt.

A full confirmation vote just days after Biden took office would put the 74-year-old Ph.D. economist quickly to work on a deep economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Yellen was previously chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018.

Concerning Comments

Yellen’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 19 highlighted some Republican lawmakers’ concerns about her role in executing Biden’s economic policies, including a bigger federal debt burden and repealing parts of their signature 2017 tax cuts.

Yellen told senators they needed to “act big” on the proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package or risk a longer recession and long-term economic scarring, job and revenue losses.

Her remarks represent a new attitude toward government debt among some economists and policymakers: Focus on the interest rate being paid and the returns it will generate, rather than the overall amount borrowed. In recent months, Treasury’s interest outlays have fallen from pre-pandemic levels due to lower rates.

In written answers to senators’ questions, Yellen said she would study raising tax rates for “pass-through” small businesses including sole proprietorships, imposing a new minimum corporate tax and raising capital gains taxes on the wealthy. She also endorsed an effective carbon pricing system and financial regulation to combat systemic risks from climate change.

With Yellen still awaiting confirmation, the Biden administration on Jan. 20 named Andy Baukol, a longtime career international finance official, as acting Treasury secretary. A confirmation hearing for Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Wally Adeyemo has not yet been scheduled.

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal