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Yellen outlines economic priorities and Republicans draw battle lines

WASHINGTON – Janet L. Yellen, candidate for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. for Treasury secretary, on Tuesday pledged to continue policies to help workers whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the pandemic as it was warning lawmakers as the US economy painfully stretched ahead of the full rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

Ms. Yellen made her comments during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, she enjoys bipartisan support and should gain confirmation. But the hearing highlighted the challenges the Biden administration will face in trying to put its economic agenda in place, with Republican lawmakers early drawing the battle lines and voicing opposition to the proposed $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package. by Mr. Biden, as well as other taxes and spending plans.

With Democrats holding a slim majority in the House and tightly controlling the Senate, Mr. Biden may need the support of Republicans to push some of his priorities through Congress. But on Tuesday, those lawmakers resuscitated concerns about the growing federal budget deficit to argue against Mr. Biden’s plans and expressed their continued opposition to several of his priorities, including sending more aid to states and to local governments, increasing unemployment benefits and increasing the minimum wage.

“We envision another spending explosion,” said Republican Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania. “The only organizing principle I can understand, it seems, is to spend as much money as possible, seemingly for the sake of spending it.

Ms Yellen, a labor economist, said with certainty that the biggest long-term threat to the country was not the federal budget deficit, but doing too little to help workers.

“Without further action, we risk a longer and more painful recession now and long-term scars in the economy later,” she said.

She stressed the importance of ensuring that recovery efforts take into account the needs of women and minorities, who were vulnerable at the onset of the crisis and who suffered most of the economic fallout.

The hearing showed the glaring differences in shaping the policies that are about to take hold of Washington. From China and climate change to tax policy and banking regulation, the Biden administration is on the verge of a dramatic change of course from the direction President Trump has given.

Mr Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package would provide $ 1,400 in direct payments to the public, more extensive unemployment insurance, money for states and cities, and a solid investment in health spending to deploy vaccines and testing capabilities. Although Congress passed a $ 900 billion package last month, the economy is showing signs of slowing as employers cut jobs and vaccinations fell short of government targets.

Mr Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years, said he wanted to involve Republicans in his plan. However, it is not clear to what extent Democrats in Congress will try to work with Republicans on the legislation or whether they will try to advance their priorities using a mechanism called budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority. in the Senate.

And while Mr Biden has suggested he wants an initial package that focuses directly on the pandemic, some lawmakers, such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the new Chairman of the Budget Committee, are already calling for tax increases for the rich.

Republicans pressured Ms Yellen over the tax policies she would pursue and whether the White House would try to undo Mr Trump’s tax cuts in 2017. She said any moves to raising taxes would only come after the health crisis has eased.

“Right now, the goal is to provide relief and help families keep a roof over their heads and eat food, not raise taxes,” he said. she declared.

Nonetheless, Ms Yellen made it clear that the Biden administration would look for ways to use tax policy to improve the economic lives of middle and low-income households. “I believe in a fair and progressive tax code where wealthy individuals and businesses pay their fair share,” she said. “We need to rebuild our economy so that it creates more prosperity for more workers.”

Other Republicans on the committee challenged Ms. Yellen with familiar complaints about Democrat-backed economic policies. They have warned that raising the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour from $ 7.25, as Mr. Biden wants to do, would hurt struggling small businesses. And they argued that another round of stimulus checks would give money to many people who didn’t need it.

“Now is not the time to enact a long list of liberal structural economic reforms,” ​​said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who remains the committee chairman for now.

Appearing at the hearing via videoconference, Ms Yellen, 74, calmly refuted criticism of her proposals. “Many families bear exceptional financial burdens that are not covered by unemployment benefits,” she said.

Despite backing $ 1.5 trillion in tax cuts and more government spending under Mr. Trump, Republicans have seemed increasingly belligerent about the national debt since Mr. Biden won the election. Asked how the United States could afford the policies proposed by the Democrats, Ms. Yellen argued that the proposals were financially responsible.

“Avoiding doing what we need to do now to deal with the pandemic and the economic damage it is causing would likely leave us in an economic situation and in terms of our debt situation worse than doing what is necessary” , she said.

Pressed on minimum wage, Ms Yellen pointed to research that found little evidence of the kind of large-scale job losses and other damage that corporate lobby groups have expressed deep concern over the years. . For example, when a state raised the minimum wage and a neighboring state did not, the job losses in the state with the increase were minimal, she said.

Tackling the pandemic is Ms Yellen’s top priority, but she has signaled a very different approach from the Treasury Department than that taken by the man she would replace, Steven Mnuchin.

The Treasury Secretary is the country’s chief economic diplomat, and Ms. Yellen will be tasked with restoring relations around the world after four years of Mr. Trump’s inflammatory tactics. The most critical strategic relationship is with China, she said, and she intends to force American allies to push to end China’s “illegal, unfair and abusive” practices.

The remarks indicated that Ms Yellen believed that the trade deal Mr Trump signed with China a year ago was insufficient and that his strategy of bilateral tariff bargaining had failed. But that doesn’t mean the Biden administration will take a more accommodating approach. Ms. Yellen said she would ensure that the “full range” of economic tools are deployed to tackle Chinese misconduct, and called on the Chinese government to expose “horrific human rights violations.”

The Treasury Department, headed by Ms. Yellen, would also focus on climate change and the risk that rising temperatures pose to the financial system. She said she would appoint a senior climate official in the department, create a “hub” to assess financial risks and study tax incentives for electric cars and other environmentally friendly policies.

The Trump administration has questioned the science behind the causes of climate change, and Mr. Mnuchin fought for references to climate change not to appear in joint statements at international economic summits. Despite driving an electric car, he doesn’t think the industry should be subsidized.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon who is set to become chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hoped Ms Yellen would receive a vote on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

Eight former Treasury secretaries signed a letter on Tuesday calling for his prompt confirmation and describing his credentials as second to none. In a note to Treasury staff on her last full day of work, Mr. Mnuchin wished Ms. Yellen “great success”.

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Biden’s grand opening will draw stars, but not the crowds of years gone by

So many people flocked to President Andrew Jackson’s inaugural reception that he allegedly escaped the White House through a window. President John F. Kennedy enlisted a Rat Pack friend, Frank Sinatra, to organize the entertainment when he took office. And, well, the Obamas danced on Beyoncé.

The transfer of presidential power to the United States has always been an iconic political event, but over the centuries it has also become a major cultural touchstone – a whirlwind of parades, parties and performances highlighting all four n the culture of the country, the tastes of its leaders and the images they seek to project.

But with the coronavirus pandemic entering a deadlier phase, and Washington on its nerves after the riot on Capitol Hill and warnings of even more security threats, the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be different by necessity. He will join a long line of national events – big sports games, the Democratic National Convention, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and New Years Eve in Times Square – which have been forced to downsize and adapt to a socially distant and distant.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden’s inaugural committee announced that it will host a prime-time televised event on January 20 featuring celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi, which aims to “showcase the resilience, heroism and unified commitment of the American people to come. together as a nation to heal and rebuild.

With crowds being urged to stay at home so as not to spread the virus even before a violent crowd has attempted to block election certification, Mr Biden’s nomination promises to take on a look, tone and tone. different feel than its predecessors.

“All inaugural activities follow a fairly standard series of events,” said Lina Mann, historian at the White House Historical Association. “You have the parade, you have been in Capitol, you have the speeches, you have oaths, and then, of course, you have inaugural balls. These have been standard for over 200 years. It will certainly be very different from that. “

So, as the country prepares to usher in the Biden era with a series of atypical inaugural events designed to meet the urgent needs of the day, here’s a look at how politics intersected with culture at some of the inaugural moments. histories of the past.

It was the sparkling ball that Dolley Madison held in 1809 at the inauguration of her husband, James – the first inaugural ball held in the new capital, Washington – that helped set the standard for making openings social events. .

Two decades later, President Andrew Jackson allowed about 20,000 people to attend a public reception related to his inauguration. It turned out to be a bit too many attendees, prompting her to flee through a window in the White House.

Crowds also tainted the ball that President Ulysses S. Grant had reluctantly agreed to hold in 1869. A reporter for the New York Times filed a postscript to his article on chaos and the crowd at “2 a.m.” “. The ball scene now confuses all description. “

And at President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration, the parade playlist read “There will be warm weather in the old town tonight,” and among the marchers were cowboys; Native Americans, including Geronimo; delegations from Puerto Rico and the Philippines; and undergraduates at Harvard. “If there was a considerable type of American life unrepresented in the three and a half hours of effervescent enthusiasm that bubbled up the avenue,” the Times wrote, “it is not easily remembered.

President John F. Kennedy was able to enlist an A-lister to produce his inaugural concert and gala: Sinatra.

Ms Mann, the historian, said she considered entertainment at Kennedy’s inauguration – starring Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte and other big stars – like a “big moment” that would set the stage for the kind of glamorous, multi-part inaugural explosions Americans have come to expect.

Despite a snowstorm that disrupted the festivities, a contemporary report described the gala as “perhaps one of the most amazing assemblies of theatrical talent ever to come together in one show.

Twenty years later, former Hollywood actor President Ronald Reagan found himself attending no less than eight balls, rubbing shoulders with stars like Charlton Heston, as Tony Bennett, Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed.

“The aura of money was everywhere,” The Times wrote. “Expensive dresses from James Galanos, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, unprecedented $ 100 tickets to dance to the music of Count Basie and other great bands.”

In the years that followed, most presidents hosted some type of inaugural concert and relied on performers to add layers of musical symbolism to their inaugurations. President Bill Clinton’s team took things to a level reminiscent of the fanfare of the Kennedy and Reagan celebrations.

In 1993, the Clinton team deployed figures like Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Kathleen Battle, Kenny G. and Ray Charles for a mega concert at the Lincoln Memorial which, wrote critic Jon Pareles in The Times, “promised the unit by crossing. “

While the events of 2001 in honor of President George W. Bush’s inauguration had a little less star power – the Times described the sensation as “almost anti-Hollywood” – they still featured superstars from pop and country singers including Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson.

And, in a taste of things to come, the question of whether or not to happen was increasingly seen as a political decision.

“It’s a very partisan act,” said Robi Draco Rosa, a friend of Mr. Martin’s and the author of hit songs like “Livin ‘la Vida Loca” at the time. “It’s a betrayal of everything any Puerto Rican should stand for.”

President Barack Obama attended 10 inaugural balls in 2009, but one stood out: the neighborhood ball. “Michelle had chocolate brown eyesight in her flowing white dress, and on our first stop I hugged her and spun her around and whispered silly things in her ear as we danced.” on a sublime rendition of ‘Finally’ sung by Beyoncé, ”he wrote in his recently published memoir,“ A Promised Land ”.

It was another star-studded inauguration. Aretha Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” during the swearing-in ceremony. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and Kanye West also had roles to play in the events.

“Sir. Obama’s inaugural events, which strived to involve everyone, were imbued with an African-American soul like the rest of American pop culture,” Mr. Pareles wrote in The Times.

As President Trump’s inauguration draws near, the news has focused as much on the stars who decided not to perform as on those who agreed.

Elton John declined Mr. Trump’s invitation to perform during his inauguration. Andrea Bocelli, who was rumored to perform, ended up not appearing as the inaugural team struggled to book artists. The Rockettes took part, but only after being engulfed in controversy when a dancer complained about being forced to perform.

At the end, the grand opening featured big names including Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down and Lee Greenwood, some of whom participated in a “Make America Great Again!” Welcome celebration. Critic Jon Caramanica wrote in The Times that he “swung between jingoism and Vaudevillian fluff and largely ignored the contribution of African Americans to popular music (i.e. almost all popular music). ) ”.

Now Mr. Biden, a man who has wanted to be president for decades, is preparing to write his own inaugural story. His version will miss the exuberant parades and glittering interior balloons of past celebrations. But the task ahead is harder than ever: to unite and entertain a nervous and divided American audience.

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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Top contenders for Biden’s cabinet draw fire from all sides

Aides the president-elect said Wednesday he plans to announce more members of his economics team next week after choosing Janet L. Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chairperson, as treasury secretary.

Mr Biden could choose Roger W. Ferguson Jr., an economist who was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and who was seriously considered for the position of Treasurer, to head the National Economic Council or a new board to oversee the recovery after recession.

Choosing Mr. Ferguson, who is black, to lead the board would help Mr. Biden deliver on his promise to make his administration look like the rest of America. Other names being considered for the post are white men, including Bruce Reed, former chief of staff to Mr. Biden, and Austan Goolsbee, an economist who was chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Gene Sperling, a veteran economic adviser dating back to the Clinton administration, is another possibility, as is Brian Deese, who was deputy director of the National Economic Council under Mr. Obama.

Mr Reed, a well-known centrist and deficit hawk, was Mr Clinton’s director of domestic policy and helped craft the welfare overhaul that Mr Clinton enacted demanding work and setting standards. deadlines.

He has been criticized by prominent Liberal members of Congress, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who also opposes his plans to head the Office of Management and Budget, which helps the White House determine economic priorities. But blocking Mr Reed, who has traveled with Mr Biden for much of the campaign, from the budget office post can only guarantee he ends up in the West Wing, where the president-elect could make him. a senior advisor.

To lead the Department of Agriculture, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the most senior black member of Congress, is pushing for Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, an African-American Democrat from Ohio. Mr Clyburn, one of Mr Biden’s first major supporters, said the ministry should focus more on hunger.

But traditionalists keen to keep a voice of rural America in office advocate Heidi Heitkamp, ​​a former senator from North Dakota, or Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who served as agriculture secretary of Mr. Obama.

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New York billboards with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner draw a threatening letter.

A lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner threatened on Friday to take legal action against the Lincoln Project, a super PAC made up of anti-Trump conservatives, unless the group remove a pair of large billboards from Times Square in Manhattan.

One of the billboards shows a smiling Mrs. Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, gesturing to national and state counts of coronavirus deaths.

Another features a smiling photo of her husband, Mr. Kushner, alongside a quote saying New Yorkers “are going to suffer and this is their problem.” Below the quote is a series of body bags.

The quote is from a Vanity Fair article published in September on Mr Kushner’s role in the federal response to the coronavirus. The article claims Mr Kushner accused Governor Andrew Cuomo of not ‘hammering the phones hard enough’ for coronavirus protective gear for New York City, then added: ‘His people are going to suffer and this is their problem. “

The threatening letter Marc E. Kasowitz, a New York attorney who represents the couple and has worked for President Trump in the past, called the ads malicious and defamatory.

“Of course, Mr. Kushner never made such a statement; Ms. Trump has never made such a move, and Project Lincoln’s claim that they did is an outrageous and shameful libel, ”the letter from Mr. Kasowitz read. “If these signs are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will undoubtedly be huge compensatory and punitive damages.”

The Lincoln Project tweeted the letter Friday night, with a declaration who promised to leave the billboards in place.

“Jared and Ivanka have always been out of touch bullies who never gave the slightest indication that they have any respect for the American people,” the statement read in part. “We plan to show them the same level of respect.”

The Times Square billboards were erected this week on the corner of 44th Street and Broadway, as part of a series of advertisements the Lincoln Project ran across the country.