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What Biden’s choices for his economic team say about his priorities

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named a diverse group to lead his economic team, including Janet Yellen, the former head of the Federal Reserve, as his choice for treasury secretary. Jim Tankersley, who covers economics for The New York Times and is author of the recent book, "The Riches of This Land," joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, President Biden announced his economic team today. He named a diverse group that features four women in top roles, including former Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen as his choice for Treasury secretary.

    Reporter Jim Tankersley of The New York Times has been following these developments closely. He covers economics for the paper. And he is also author of the recent book "The Riches of This Land."

    Jim Tankersley, thanks so much for being with us again. What do these choices, as a group, tell you about Joe Biden's priorities, what he may do once he takes office?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Well, thanks so much for having me, Judy.

    This is a group that is really focused on workers and on labor. It may be one of the most union-friendly groups of top economic advisers we have seen in the White House in a long time. And, in particular, for policy, right out of the gate, it is a group that is going to be very committed on the idea of trying to get the economy up and running as fast as it can, as quickly as possible, in order to boost workers' wages.

    And it's going to be not at all shy about pushing additional deficit spending by the federal government in order to get there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And specifically with regard to COVID relief, COVID economic relief, can you tell anything from looking at this group at what might happen?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Yes, they have been very clear, a number of them, from Janet Yellen, Neera Tanden on down, these picks, about the sorts of things that need to be done to help people and businesses and state and local governments survive this pandemic.

    And that includes more direct aid to individuals. It includes more help for small businesses, and, in particular, aid to states and local governments who have big budget holes, but also things like passing pandemic paid leave, a program to give family and paid leave to workers who are on the front lines of COVID in particular.

    And I think that you will see all of those policies pushed early on by the Biden team.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's talk specifics.

    Janet Yellen at Treasury, the first woman to hold that job, as we were saying, what do we know, based on her record, of what to expect from her?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Well, Janet Yellen is a labor economist by training and someone who really pushed the Federal Reserve when she was the chairman of the Reserve, to keep interest rates low for a long time in order to stoke growth. And I think we will see more of that out of her, more of a focus on inequality and on workers.

    And another thing she has focused on a lot in the last couple of years is on tearing down the barriers of discrimination in the economy to help women in particular succeed. And I think you will see her focus on that as well. It has been a big deal for her in the economics profession, but it is something that she has talked a lot about having enormous consequences for the broader economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then Cecilia Rouse, who president-elect Biden has said he wants to head his Council of Economic Advisers, not as well a known name as the others, but — so what should we know about her?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Well, she will — if she is confirmed, she will be the first Black economist to head the Council of Economic Advisers.

    She was on the Council under President Barack Obama. She is also a labor economist, a real expert in a variety of things having to do with labor and education, and, just like Janet Yellen, has focused a lot of academic work on the effects of discrimination.

    So, there are some common themes here with the team.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then there is, to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, who has been around. She is someone who I think is familiar to many who watch what is going on in Washington. What do we look for her?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Well, Neera Tanden runs the Center for American progress, which is a liberal think tank. And she has been an adviser to Hillary Clinton. She has been around Washington for a long time.

    She is someone who has really pushed on a variety of sort of liberal policy agenda items, and is more of a political player than the other two. But I think, with Neera Tanden, you will see a focus in the OMB, if she is confirmed, on things like climate change, health care, on sort of not shying away, again, from running budget deficits to stoke growth, which is a real, I think, departure from what many progressives thought they might be getting if Biden had appointed someone who is more of a moderate deficit — longer-term deficit hawk Democrat to that position.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Jim, what about with regard to Senate confirmation? These three positions we have been talking about all require Senate confirmation.

    What is expected for each one of them, for Yellen, for Rouse, and for Tanden?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Well, I think Janet Yellen appears likely to be confirmed, based on the comments that we have seen in the last 24 hours from Republican senators. She is someone who has been confirmed by the Senate before. So has Cecilia Rouse, who I think is likely to be confirmed also, unless Republicans find some things in her academic work that they really object to.

    Neera Tanden, again, as a more political player and someone whose Twitter feed has really offended a lot of Republican senators, may face more opposition. And that was signaled by Republican senators in the last day that they don't like that she has taken after Republicans in public comments.

    And so that may make it hard for them to confirm her. A lot will depend on whether Democrats control the Senate or Republicans do after the run-off elections in Georgia in January.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other thing, Jim. I mean, if people look to see the differences between this team and the Trump economic team, pretty significant difference?

  • Jim Tankersley:

    For sure.

    There is just a big difference in how they approach the economy. The Trump team came in with a real focus on, how do they spur more business investment in the economy? How can they do more by taking away regulations, by cutting taxes to make businesses happier and get them to spend more money on investments?

    This team is much more focused on workers. How do they support workers? How do they change regulations or even bolster them to make it easier for people to work and to make that work pay off with higher wages? So, it's just a completely different angle at looking at the economy and very different policies that will result.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jim Tankersley with The New York Times, we thank you so much.

  • Jim Tankersley:

    Thank you for having me.

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