Biden picks economic team as centrists, progressives debate choices

Supporters waving at President-elect Joe Biden's motorcade in Delaware on Sunday. Mr Biden's economic selections have been the subject of a battle between Democratic centrists - who mainly want a return to expertise and competence - and progressives
Supporters waving at President-elect Joe Biden's motorcade in Delaware on Sunday. Mr Biden's economic selections have been the subject of a battle between Democratic centrists - who mainly want a return to expertise and competence - and progressives - who want dramatic steps to fulfil a key Democratic campaign promise to make US capitalism fairer for all.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to name Ms Neera Tanden, who was an adviser to president Barack Obama, as director of the White House budget office, and economist Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers this week, according to a source.

Mr Biden is also expected to pick Mr Wally Adeyemo, senior international economic adviser in the Obama administration, to serve as Dr Janet Yellen's top deputy at the Treasury Department.

Economists Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey are expected to be named as members of the Council of Economic Advisers, the source said.

Mr Biden has also picked Mr Brian Deese, another adviser to Mr Obama, to head the White House National Economic Council, the New York Times reported, citing three sources.

The President-elect's economic picks have been the subject of a tug of war between Democratic centrists - who mainly want a return to expertise and competence - and progressives - who want dramatic steps to fulfil a key Democratic campaign promise to make US capitalism fairer for all.

The nominations of Ms Tanden, Professor Rouse and Mr Adeyemo require Senate confirmation.

As in 2009 with Mr Obama, whom Mr Biden served as vice-president, the incoming administration will inherit on Jan 20 a struggling economy facing serious near-term challenges.

But this time, the economic blow dealt by the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare dramatic wealth and racial disparities that progressives want Mr Biden's team to tackle swiftly. They have leaned hard on him to shun corporate lobbyists and prioritise diverse picks.

The economic selections so far represent "broad diversity, deep expertise, long Washington experience", said Mr Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist Democratic political consultancy Third Way, and "a return to competence and sanity".

But some progressives have criticised the selection of Mr Deese, a White House climate official under Mr Obama and currently an executive at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager.

Mr Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, a group that scrutinises corporate influence in government, said BlackRock's large stake in US policy decisions might put pressure on Mr Deese to recuse himself from some policy matters.

"He will either be absent from big chunks of his job or proceed without regard to the conflicts of interest," Mr Hauser said.

The appointment of Ms Tanden, who heads the left-leaning Centre for American Progress think-tank and sparred with the progressive camp over her support for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton against Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential race, is also likely to draw criticism from the left.

Prof Rouse, a labour economist at Princeton University whose research has focused on the economics of education and tackling wealth inequality, is well-liked by progressives. She previously served as a member of Mr Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

Prof Rouse has criticised the Trump administration's economic response to the pandemic, noting in an April Princeton University podcast that small-business aid had fallen short. She also spoke in favour of more direct aid to workers through their employers, and expressed concern about the impact the pandemic would have on worsening income disparity.

Mr Adeyemo was a senior White House national security adviser for international economics during the Obama administration. He is currently president of the Obama Foundation.

Mr Biden's economic agenda is likely to focus on getting the country past the coronavirus crisis, as a health as well as economic issue.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2020, with the headline 'Biden picks economic team as centrists, progressives debate choices'. Print Edition | Subscribe