WASHINGTON (CN) — The soon-to-be 46th president of the United States is getting his administration off the ground Tuesday as a slew of nominees to critical positions come before Congress.
Set in a city largely locked down and crawling with heavy security forces in anticipation of Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, the lengthy day of confirmation hearings featured Biden’s picks for top spy chief, treasury secretary, and heads of the nation’s homeland security agency and Defense Department.
Set to succeed the outgoing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Janet Yellen appeared this morning before the Senate Finance Committee. The economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve offered full-throated support for a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that the president-elect has proposed.
“Neither the president-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden. But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big,” Yellen said in opening remarks.
The plan, if approved, would deliver $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans and would shore up flagging small businesses with $15 billion in grants and $35 billion to small business lending, while redoubling investments to get the nation’s Covid-19 vaccine program, as well as testing and tracing initiatives, up and running more effectively. As of Tuesday, more than 399,000 Americans have died from the novel respiratory virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.
Six months ago, Yellen appeared before the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis with a stark prediction: that it could be three full years before the economy can recover in earnest if the U.S. failed to get its infection rates under control.
Further economic recovery will also involve an about-face on the U.S. approach to trade under President Donald Trump. The former Federal Reserve chair told senators she supports moving away from over-reliance on “unilateral protectionism” with its allies as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
This could be a boon for the Biden administration’s plans to generate more American revenue by raising corporate tax rates internationally. The corporate tax rate sits at 21%; Biden has called for a hike up to 28%.
Yellen also called for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, brushing away criticism from Republican lawmakers like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina that doing so would be a permanent drag on jobs.
Much of what is known on raising the minimum wage shows the contrary, that effects would be minimal, generally speaking, she argued.
A 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office found if the hourly wage was bumped to $15, it would cause two things to happen: On average 1.3 million would be lifted out of poverty while another 1.3 million jobs might be lost.
Those were the median rates, however, and the CBO also noted the wage hike would help 17 million workers who earn just under $15 an hour and would uplift another 10 million earning more.
Over at the Senate Intelligence Committee, lawmakers weighed the nomination of Avril Haines, former deputy CIA director and deputy national security adviser, to head the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. If confirmed, she will become the first woman to lead the national intelligence community.
Haines would have sweeping oversight of 18 intelligence bodies. She would also replace the current director of the intelligence office, John Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe previously served as a Republican congressman for Texas and came to the job amid intense backlash regarding his qualifications and close ties to Trump.
The nomination of Haines was announced alongside the promotion of Jake Sullivan, who will serve the Biden administration as a national security adviser — one of the youngest to hold the position at age 44.