Yellen confirmed as first US female Treasury Secretary

The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Dr Janet Yellen, 74, with all opposition coming from Republicans.
The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Dr Janet Yellen, 74, with all opposition coming from Republicans.

WASHINGTON • Dr Janet Yellen won overwhelming Senate confirmation as the first woman to lead the United States Treasury, setting her quickly to work with Congress on Covid-19 relief, reviewing US sanctions policy and strengthening financial regulation.

The Senate voted 84-15 on Monday to confirm Dr Yellen, 74, with all opposition coming from Republicans, several of whom have expressed concerns about President Joe Biden's proposed US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) coronavirus aid plan, tax hikes and other spending initiatives.

"Secretary Yellen's confirmation shatters another glass ceiling," Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.

"In a field dominated by men, it's refreshing to finally see a woman leading the Treasury Department."

Dr Yellen made history in 2014 when she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve.

A portrait of the economist and daughter of a Brooklyn, New York, doctor will join those of 76 other Secretaries in the Treasury's hallways, dating back to the first, Alexander Hamilton.

She won the votes of 34 Republicans in a strong bipartisan vote, with a number of them pledging to work with her. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wrote on Twitter: "I hope bipartisanship continues and we can work together on common sense tax/fiscal policy for all Americans."

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz congratulated Dr Yellen and voiced hope that she could help lead progress on reaching an international agreement on digital taxation.

Dr Yellen will play a key role in working with Congress on Mr Biden's coronavirus stimulus plans and on his pledges to invest US$2 trillion in infrastructure, green energy projects, education and research to boost American competitiveness.

The Treasury will oversee Mr Biden's plans to help finance these initiatives by trying to persuade Congress to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent and increase taxes on Americans making over US$400,000 a year.

Republicans have expressed concerns over the price tag and increased debt in a return to fiscal conservatism after running up deficits during former president Donald Trump's term with 2017 tax cuts and nearly US$5 trillion in coronavirus spending.

Dr Yellen told senators at her confirmation hearing last week that they needed to raise the minimum wage and "act big" on stimulus measures or risk a longer, more painful recession brought on by the pandemic.

Dr Yellen also said during the hearing that she would conduct an immediate review of US financial sanctions policy administered by the Treasury to ensure that sanctions were used "strategically and appropriately" after a major ramp-up of such measures under the Trump administration.

The Treasury on Monday announced more members of Dr Yellen's team, bringing back some Obama administration veterans who served at the agency.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline Yellen confirmed as first US female Treasury Secretary. Subscribe