Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse will chair the Council of Economic Advisers (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse will chair the Council of Economic Advisers (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

“This team … will work tirelessly to ensure every American enjoys a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead, and that our businesses can thrive and outcompete the rest of the world.”

When President-elect Joe Biden takes over the presidency on Jan. 20, he will be facing an economic crisis that is unprecedented in the modern era. More than 20 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, tens of millions more are earning poverty-level wages or are at risk of eviction, and as the coronavirus pandemic spirals out of control and key benefits lapse at the end of the year, things are likely to get even worse. 

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On Monday, Biden began the first step of addressing that crisis, announcing top members of his economic team, which comprises a diverse array of economists, policymakers, and experts that underscore Biden’s focus on improving life for America’s workers and tackling inequality. 

The team includes:

  • Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse, who will run the Council of Economic Advisers, a body that offers the president economic advice on both domestic and international matters. If confirmed, Rouse would be the first Black woman to lead the council. 
  • Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, a pair of labor-focused economists, will join Rouse on the Council of Economic Advisers. Both Bernstein and Boushey say they are committed to using the power of government to address rising inequality, boosting wages, and reaching full employment.
  • Wally Adeyemo, the former deputy director of the National Economic Council who has experience in international policy-making, is set to be named deputy Treasury Secretary, where he will help oversee Biden’s tax and spending proposals. An immigrant from Nigeria, Adeyemo would be the first African American to serve in his position. 
  • Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden is slated to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which prepares and administers the federal budget and coordinates policy plans among various federal agencies. If confirmed, Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, would become the first Indian-American to lead the OMB. 

Biden also named Janet Yellen as his Treasury Secretary last week and is expected to nominate Brian Deese, a former Obama economic aide with experience in climate policy, to lead the National Economic Council, which coordinates economic policy-making, coordinates policy advice for the president, and monitors implementation of the president’s economic agenda.

Biden’s new team is known for supporting aggressive fiscal stimulus efforts to improve the economy and pushing for more government spending on areas like education and infrastructure in order to strengthen the economy over the long run. In a statement, Biden said his team would work to “deliver immediate economic relief” to Americans who have been devastated by the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This team is comprised of respected and tested groundbreaking public servants who will help the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 and address the structural inequities in our economy. They will work tirelessly to ensure every American enjoys a fair return for their work and an equal chance to get ahead, and that our businesses can thrive and outcompete the rest of the world,” Biden said. “This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America. They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans.”

The nominations earned praise from many experts, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and economist Paul Krugman, who both took to Twitter to celebrate the news. 

As with his Cabinet selections last week, Biden is trying to thread the needle with his appointments and select individuals who will appease both the moderate or progressive wings of the Democratic party. Tanden is likely to receive the most scrutiny of anyone on the team, given her past disputes with activists and surrogates for Sen. Bernie Sanders. She has also alienated Senate Republicans, who could kill her nomination if they hold control of the US Senate. Adeyemo and Deese, meanwhile, have ties to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which could be a non-starter for some progressives. 

But progressives are also likely to be pleased with Biden’s trio of picks for his Council of Economic advisors, who have shunned immediate concerns about budget deficits and pushed instead for more government spending during the economic crisis. 

Rouse has written about how unions boost wages, while Boushey has called on Congress to tie more coronavirus benefits to economic conditions such as the unemployment rate, which would protect it from lawmakers’ whims and ensure aid flows until the economy improves. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Bernstein has also encouraged more federal spending and warned that not providing enough aid could prove devastating and lead to a slower, weaker recovery, as happened after the 2008 Great Recession.

That could prove critical at a time when Senate Republicans have signaled they will return to their roles of feigning concern over the deficit after four years of watching it surge under President Donald Trump.

If Rouse and her team are supportive of major spending investments across the country, it could create a stronger path for Biden to rebuild the economy, as he’s promised to do. During his campaign, Biden pledged to raise taxes on corporations and Americans earning over $400,000, spend $2 trillion on a climate program to create millions of jobs, raise the minimum wage, and empower unions, and Monday’s announcement indicates he remains committed to his ambitious economic agenda.

READ MORE: Meet Biden’s Cabinet Picks: A Climate Champion, a Woman Who Faced a Man With a Machine Gun, and More