Biden Names Economic Team

Biden Transition Update 

Last week, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State. Blinken served in the Obama administration as Deputy Secretary of State and Principal Deputy National Security Adviser.

Today, Biden nominated Janet Yellen, former chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, to lead the Treasury Department. Yellen will be the first woman to hold the position. 

Adding to the economic team, Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton labor economist is set to head the Council of Economic Advisers. Biden’s campaign economic advisers Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey will serve as members.

Neera Tanden, chief executive of the Center for American Progress, is set to lead the Office of Management and Budget. 

Adewale Adeyemo will be deputy Treasury secretary and former Obama aide Brian Deese will head the National Economic Council. 

Separately, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are set to receive their first presidential daily briefing today. Typically, a president-elect receives briefings a few weeks before inauguration to ensure an effective transition process. 

Vaccine Update 

Moderna said it will apply for the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization to distribute its COVID-19 vaccine. A late-stage trial showed it was 94.1 percent effective and had no serious side effects.  Pfizer has already asked for FDA approval for their vaccine, which showed similar results. 

The FDA is set to meet with an advisory committee next month to review the applications from Moderna and Pfizer. The vaccinations could be distributed starting in December. 

Appropriations Negotiations

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is opposed to an agreement by House Appropriations Chair Rep. Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Richard Shelby, which allocated top line numbers for each of the bills. McCarthy doesn’t support the agreement’s emergency funds. 

The deadline for an appropriations package is December 11. It’s unclear how much emergency money is included in the agreement. Lawmakers and aides haven’t provided details. 

Despite the opposition, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told lawmakers to prepare to stay in Washington through the weekend as talks continue on government funding. Those bills “will be considered by the House as soon as they are ready,” he said in a notice to members. Some items still need to be worked out before a bill fully comes together, including $2 billion for Trump’s border wall in the Senate version of the bill. Additionally, President Trump hasn’t said if he will sign the spending bill. As a result, appropriators also are preparing another short-term, stopgap bill into next year. 

National Defense Bill Update

Before the year is up, the House and Senate must also come to an agreement on a national defense bill. Hoyer said he also plans for the House to consider the conference report on the annual defense policy bill soon. Negotiators have made progress on several provisions, though House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith said language dealing with bases named for Confederate generals could imperil the bill because of a veto threat from the White House.

COVID-19 Response Package Unlikely
There are also still conversations of a COVID-19 relief package. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to revive stalled stimulus talks with congressional Democrats last week by proposing the use of untapped Federal Reserve relief funds as part of a new package of aid, but Democrats opposed this effort. Democratic leaders reiterated in a statement last Friday their call for a comprehensive stimulus package that offers aid to the unemployed, small businesses, and state and local authorities and boosts funding for health care before the new administration takes office Jan. 20. Ultimately, the prospects for a package coming together before President-elect Biden is sworn in are slim.

Other Legislative Activity Before Year End

Should all items addressed above be finalized quickly, the House may finish its work for the year early the week of Dec. 7.  In the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also prioritizing confirmation of President Trump’s nominees. The confirmation of Judy Shelton to lead the federal reserve is up in the air.  Her confirmation failed before Thanksgiving, with two GOP senators supporting her were absent due to exposure to the coronavirus. Democrat Mark Kelly is expected to arrive in the Senate to be sworn in early this week. If everyone votes the same way, and assuming Kelly votes with fellow Democrats, her nomination would be defeated 51-49.

Separately, President Donald Trump formally nominated Brian Brooks to be Comptroller of the Currency, where he is acting now. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo has already said that Brooks would get a confirmation hearing for a five-year term. If Crapo succeeds in fast-tracking Brook’s confirmation, Biden would then have to decide whether to remove him after the Jan. 20 inauguration. While the law indicates Biden can remove Brooks, such authority has never been used before.

Upcoming Events 

Our partner, the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, today holds a virtual meeting: A Nation Unprepared: Incomplete Implementation of the National Blueprint for Biodefense. This meeting of the Commission is meant to better understand federal efforts to enhance national biodefense since the 2015 release of A National Blueprint for Biodefense: Leadership and Major Reform Needed to Optimize Efforts. Congress and the Obama and Trump Administrations have taken steps to enhance the Nation’s biodefense in the last five years, including implementing several of the Commission’s recommendations. However, the government remains unprepared for a large-scale biological event like the ongoing novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. You can watch the event here

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