Janet Yellen Becomes First Female Treasury Secretary

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - DECEMBER 01: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury nominee Janet Yellen speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden is nominating and appointing key positions to the Treasury Department, Office of Management and Budget, and the Council of Economic Advisers.

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The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, as Treasury secretary Monday by a vote of 84 to 15 making her the first female to ever hold the position, as well as one of the most influential figures in economics, to steer the U.S. economy through the stormy waters of the pandemic.

She will become a key advisor to President Joe Biden at a critical time for the U.S. economy. During a Senate Committee on Finance hearing on Jan. 19, Yellen laid out her ambitions for the Biden administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, asking lawmakers to “act big” and approve a $1.9 billion economic rescue package.

“Economists don’t always agree, but I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now—and long-term scarring of the economy later,” Yellen said. 

Yellen, an experienced economist who first began working for the Federal Reserve in 1977, served as its chair under President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump from 2014 to 2018. She has also worked as a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, and the London School of Economics.

Before even taking office, Yellen was defending the new president’s economic agenda to Congress, providing written answers to questions from the Senate Committee on Finance, who grilled her on Biden’s tax plans, his economic stimulus proposal, his campaign promises to reduce student loan debt, and other matters. She made clear in her responses, delivered last Thursday, that the new administration would prioritize pandemic relief over debt reduction, at least in the short run.

“Without question, we have to be conscious of our debt, but it’s clear that fiscal stimulus to support the economy and the working families most affected by the impact of COVID-19 is our most urgent priority,” she wrote. “The combination of persistently low rates and the need for investing in our people, communities, and environment offers our nation a unique opportunity to make real progress in areas that have been neglected for too long.”

Like all cabinet members, Yellen’s term has no fixed length, and lasts as long as President Biden wishes to keep her in the position.