The Senate confirms Janet Yellen as America's first female Treasury chief

  • Yellen was confirmed in the US Senate on Monday in an 84-15 vote.
  • The 74-year-old economist is the first woman to lead the Treasury Department.
  • She will play a critical role shepherding the Biden administration's rescue package through Congress.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Senate voted on Monday evening to confirm Janet Yellen as the nation's first woman to serve as treasury secretary. 

She racked up significant bipartisan support in a 84-15 vote, and her confirmation process was a relatively smooth one because of her extensive economic credentials. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell voted to confirm her, and she drew unanimous support from a Senate panel on Friday.

Yellen, 74, is the first woman to head the Treasury Department. She is also the first person to have held three of the most important economic positions in American government: Treasury chief, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, as well as chair as the Federal Reserve.

"She's been confirmed four times already in the Senate," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, incoming chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told Insider in a recent Capitol Hill interview. "She is really in the Senate confirmation hall of fame because she gets these huge majorities when people vote on her."

During her confirmation hearing with the Senate Finance Committee last week, Yellen urged Congress to "act big" on another federal rescue package, warning of a worse downturn in the economy without one. 

She also said lawmakers should set aside concerns about the rising budget deficit because the cost of borrowing is low, a view shared by many experts.

"Economists don't always agree, but I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now—and long-term scarring of the economy later," she told lawmakers.

She fielded a range of policy questions on the minimum wage, direct payments, and taxes. Yellen said the Biden administration doesn't intend to raise taxes for wealthy Americans or large businesses before the pandemic is over. 

In follow-up answers to senators, Yellen also indicated she would not attempt to revive the Federal Reserve's expired emergency lending programs. The Treasury and Fed jointly managed them last year, and the Trump administration ended them in a move that sparked fierce Democratic criticism.

Yellen will play a critical role shepherding Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion rescue package through Congress, a difficult task given it's already triggering strong Republican opposition. 

The rescue package contains another wave of stimulus checks, federal unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution funds, and aid to state and local governments.

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