When she led President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers in the late 1990s, Janet Yellen confided to her husband, economist George Akerlof, about the challenges she faced navigating Washington’s political storms.
Those storms are about to become Ms. Yellen’s headache again. As President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Ms. Yellen is looking at the most political role she has had in nearly three decades of high-profile policy making. Her job will be to formulate and defend Mr. Biden’s policies at a time when the economy is at a crossroads and the capital is deeply polarized.
Tough debates loom about how much more the government should borrow and spend to advance a recovery that is slowing and vulnerable as Covid-19 spreads, but also is poised to bounce back if vaccines are successfully and quickly distributed.
Ms. Yellen’s resume was a draw for Mr. Biden. No past Treasury secretary has served both as leader of the Federal Reserve, which she did from 2014 to 2018, and head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, her job from 1997 to 1999 in the Clinton administration.
Yet her previous experiences with Washington politics were insulated by comparison with the task at hand. Compared with the Treasury Department, the Fed is a cloistered and academic institution. At Treasury, politics is often one of the first considerations.