Janet Yellen urged Congress to act boldly in passing another COVID-19 relief package and pledged to work with lawmakers to help more workers save for retirement during her confirmation hearing Jan. 19 before the Senate Finance Committee.
Ms. Yellen, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee Jan. 22 as President Joe Biden's Treasury secretary and is the former Federal Reserve chairwoman, said many families are not prepared for retirement and the pandemic has exacerbated the issue. "I think in this economy everyone needs access to a workplace retirement savings plan and (I) look forward to working with you to address this issue," she said following a question from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a longtime proponent of retirement security legislation.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., asked Ms. Yellen for her thoughts on a bill he proposed last year with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that would create a national online lost-and-found database for retirement accounts.
"I think it's an important objective that you've outlined there and if it does become law, we'll do everything possible to make sure that it's implemented effectively," Ms. Yellen said.
During the hearing, Ms. Yellen said she would focus on providing support to American workers and small businesses.
"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," Ms. Yellen said in her prepared remarks.
Mr. Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion relief package on Jan. 14 that includes direct payments to people, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, aid to small businesses and a national vaccination program. Ms. Yellen, who appeared before the committee virtually, said it's crucial that the package is passed quickly.
"Neither the president-elect, nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country's debt burden," she said. "But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big. 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."
Several Republican committee members took issue with parts of the proposal, particularly raising the minimum wage.
Moreover, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., questioned Ms. Yellen about the "massive amount of debt that we continue to rack up as a nation."
Ms. Yellen said she agreed that "we need to put the federal budget on a path that's sustainable," but said the quickest way to achieve that is to "defeat the pandemic."
"To avoid doing what we need to do now to address the pandemic and the economic damage that it's causing would likely leave us in a worse place fiscally and with respect to our debt situation," Ms. Yellen added.
Following the Senate Finance Committee vote on her nomination, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the current committee chairman, said Republicans worked "expeditiously in the interest of bipartisanship," to get the nomination approved quickly. Mr. Grassley voted in favor "given her qualifications and belief that the president is entitled to pick his own cabinet members as long as they're qualified and reasonable, and there's no doubt about the qualifications of Dr. Yellen."