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Trying to find ways to heal America’s economic pain

As President-elect Biden prepares to change the federal government's approach to COVID, he's also about to inherit an economy that may be slowing down. Friday's jobs report was the worst in the last eight months and that economic sluggishness is tied to the COVID surge. Cecilia Rouse is Biden's nominee to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As president-elect Biden is preparing to change the federal government's approach towards COVID, he is also about to inherit an economy that may be slowing down significantly.

    Today's monthly jobs report, which is the last during the Trump era, was the worst in about eight months. And the economic sluggishness is connected with the surge of COVID and efforts to stop it.

    Cecilia Rouse is his nominee to be the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. And she joins me now.

    Cecilia Rouse, thank you so much for being with us.

    This administration will begin with a soaring stock market. But, as we juts said, with a loss of jobs in December of, what, 140,000, what shape is the U.S. economy in?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Well, it's very clear from the jobs report and from other indicators that the U.S. economy is struggling.

    And this is just a dramatic reminder that, before the economy can get back to full health, we need to control the pandemic. These are just linked. So, this is just further evidence that we're struggling.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when the president-elect says, as he did today, that he's going to be asking Congress right away for the financial wherewithal to deal with the virus, what does that mean? How much money are you going to be asking for, and for what purpose?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    What we can see is that, until we get the pandemic under control, the economy is going to struggle. So, we need to ensure that we help the households, the businesses, the state and local governments that are trying to get through this pandemic. We need to make sure that we minimize the harm to individual businesses and states.

    The president-elect has recognized that the package that Congress passed is really important to help us to get to the next stage of this crisis, but it's just a down payment, that we know the individuals are going to need additional support because we know that the unemployment rate is still likely to be elevated.

    States are struggling, we can see, with the vaccine rollout, in terms of our first responders and our health response. And then we need to get teachers back into schools. This report showed that state and local governments lost about 50,000 jobs and that educators, our teachers, those that support or schools, we had losses of 20,000.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    So, in order for women in particular to get back to work, we know that children have to get back to school.

    So, the president-elect will be putting together a package that will address these various concerns to help us all get to the other side of this pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Will one of the first things be, say, that $1,400 additional to get to the $2,000 that Democrats were pushing, up until Republicans put a stop to it?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    The president-elect today said that he was committed to ensuring that we provide families and individuals with those direct payments to ensure that they can pay the bills, pay the rent, put food on the table.

    And so, yes, he would like to complete that — complete that effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet you have got Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, perhaps others, worried about whether those payments are targeted enough, saying he's worried about spending more than the government can afford.

    How confident are you can get that through?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    So, I'm part of the economic team.

    And what I hope is that Congress understands that what — that a wide array of economists understand and agree, is that, in order for us to actually get back on a path of economic health, in order for us to in fact ensure that we have growth coming out of this pandemic, that we need to provide relief to households, businesses and state and local governments.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what we're seeing, Cecilia Rouse, is that this pandemic is taking a lot longer to work through than I think anybody expected it.

    As you know, the numbers are getting worse. Can you — I mean, how do you foresee doing that? Because you have the president-elect also talking about a much bigger, multitrillion-dollar package in the spring that would get into issues like infrastructure. I mean, how many can you actually get done, given the needs out there?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Right now, we have to address the pandemic. We have to provide relief for families.

    But we know that's just to get us — that's just like a life raft. If we're going — to get to carry this analogy further, if we're going to get back to shore and we're going to be — have a really healthy economy, not only do we have to provide relief right now, but we have to ensure that, as we're rebuilding the economy, that everybody is able to participate, so hence the efforts around infrastructure.

    We know we have serious needs in infrastructure in our country. Investments in infrastructure of actually good investments. And they put people to work. They are foundations of growth.

    And so those are smart investments. We certainly don't want to just be wasting money, just be spending money. The strategy here is to help families get to the other side, but also to make those investments that will actually encourage growth as we — as our economy builds back.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The refrain we hear from Republicans at the same time is that Joe Biden is going to raise taxes. Just wait for it to happen.

    Is that part of the plan, how much in taxes, and on what income levels?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    The president-elect is committed to making these investments in a smart way, and recognizes that it's not just a spending spree and that we have to be mindful about how we're going to pay for some of the investments, especially those that are more permanent.

    And he looks forward to working with Congress, and to finding those sources of revenues. There are going to be some hard choices, but these are really important choices, in order for us to ensure that the economy continues to grow and to flourish for all Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Much more to talk about on that. And we will have opportunities, I'm sure, to talk about it in the future.

    But I do want to ask you about your role. You are the first Black person to occupy this role, as chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers in, what, its 75-year history. What do you — what does that mean to you? What do you think it means to the country?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Well, it's really an honor for me.

    This is my third time in Washington. I started at the National Economic Council, and then I was a member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The Council of Economic Advisers provides the president and his administration with objective, evidence-based research and data to help guide the policy-making that underscores the administration.

    It's an honor to be nominated to have such a role. And so I look forward to trying to ensure that the policies that we put forth going forward are evidence-based and, importantly, that they help all Americans to participate and flourish in our economy going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cecilia Rouse, the president-elect's pick to be the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, thank you so much for talking with us.

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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