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Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen speaks during an event featuring President-elect Joe Biden's economic team at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen speaks during an event featuring President-elect Joe Biden's economic team at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'Smartest Thing We Can Do Is Act Big': Yellen Bolsters Demand for Biden to Enact Bold FDR-Style Agenda

"Instead of feel-good talk of unification," said journalist John Nichols, "FDR called out the Wall Street speculators, the bankers, and their conservative apologists."

Kenny Stancil

During her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen endorsed progressives' demand for President-elect Joe Biden to pursue a bold and egalitarian relief, recovery, and reform program capable of tackling the intertwined public health and economic catastrophe triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big," said Yellen, an economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve between 2014 and 2018. "In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a very long time."

"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 longer-term scarring of the economy later," she added. "People worry about a K-shaped recovery, but well before Covid-19 infected a single American, we were living in a K-shaped economy, one where wealth built upon wealth while working families fell farther and farther behind." 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, backed the Treasury Secretary nominee's call for the incoming Biden administration to disregard fear-mongering about the national debt in order to focus on improving the well-being of struggling working-class households that are grappling with unemployment, hunger, housing insecurity, and other pressing problems.

"The crises that face us are enormous, and we need solutions that match the scale of these crises," Jayapal said, adding that the CPC will support Yellen's efforts to invest in the American people.

Yellen was given a glowing review by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who will soon chair the Senate Finance Committee once Democrats assume control of the chamber. "This is the worst economic crisis in 100 years," said Wyden, "and nobody is better qualified... to lead an economic recovery."

In addition to helping to design and manage the Biden administration's response to current hardships felt by large swaths of the U.S. population—particularly low-income individuals living in resource-deprived communities, a category in which workers of color are overrepresented—Yellen will also influence the federal government's approach to financial regulation and taxation. As Wyden explained during Yellen's hearing, such decisions shape other arenas, including energy policy.

Despite Biden's extensive record of pushing for bipartisan neoliberalism, multiple progressive commentators have pointed to the devastating effects of the coronavirus crisis, the climate emergency, worsening inequality, and a weakened democracy in an attempt to persuade the president-elect to rebuild the economy on a more just and sustainable basis, especially now that Democrats control both chambers of Congress in addition to the White House.

In the face of cynical calls for national harmony from the insurrectionist GOPThe Nation's John Nichols is among those urging Biden to enact a visionary agenda reminiscent of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal—a robust federal response to the Great Depression that ushered in an era of more fairly shared prosperity through stronger regulations and the public provision of jobs, infrastructure, and services.

According to Nichols:

Few newly elected presidents have faced a circumstance so fraught as the one Biden must address Wednesday. It's been just two weeks since Donald Trump incited insurrection. It's just one week since the outgoing president was impeached. Trump's Senate trial is being organized as armed troops guard the Capitol, where Biden is to be sworn in. Yet, already, Republicans in Congress and pundits on cable television are encouraging the president-elect to focus his address on "healing" and "unity."...

These calls will appeal to Biden, a veteran Washington insider who bid for the presidency in 2020 as a candidate preaching comity and reconciliation...

While a poetic appeal for amity would, undoubtedly, get high marks from newspaper editorial pages and a nod from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it won't be enough to rally the great mass of Americans to take up the necessary burden of forging transformative change.

Rather than making lukewarm appeals to unity with anti-democratic Republicans, Nichols wrote, Biden must channel Roosevelt, who also inherited an unprecedented crisis and responded not by "compromis[ing] with those who defended the old order," but by altering the purpose of government, turning it into a tool for empowering labor and achieving downward redistribution.

Pleading with Biden to not "govern from the 'center,'" former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote earlier this week that "most of today's GOP live in a parallel universe."

"There's no 'center' between the reality-based world and theirs," said Reich, noting that "last Wednesday, fully 95% of House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for inciting insurrection, even after his attempted coup threatened their very lives."

"The week before, immediately following the raid on the Capitol, more than 100 House Republicans and several Republican senators objected to the certification of Biden electors in two states on the basis of Trump's lies about widespread fraud," Reich pointed out. "Prior to the raid, several Republican members of Congress repeated those lies on television and Twitter and at 'Stop the Steal' events."

According to Reich, "Trump has remade the Republican party into a white supremacist cult living within a counter-factual wonderland of lies and conspiracies." He added that "there is no middle ground between lies and facts. There is no halfway point between civil discourse and violence. There is no midrange between democracy and fascism."

As Nichols put it, "FDR knew the country needed more than healing. Instead of feel-good talk of unification, FDR called out the Wall Street speculators, the bankers, and their conservative apologists." 

As it was in 1932, now is the time for a "call to action," wrote Nichols. He urged Biden to "outline a bold agenda for addressing a pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate crisis, systemic racism, and the broken priorities of a federal government that consistently overfunds the military-industrial complex and underfunds the human needs of a society overwhelmed by hunger and homelessness."

Looking ahead to Biden's inauguration, Jayapal tweeted: "Let's immediately get to work on a bold, progressive agenda to get us through this crisis, fight injustice, and lift everyone up."


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