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    New F.T.C. Majority Gives Lina Khan a Chance to Push an Aggressive Agenda

    The confirmation of a third Democrat creates an opportunity for Lina Khan, the Federal Trade Commission’s chair, to advance efforts to rein in corporate power.WASHINGTON — The confirmation of a third Democrat to the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday broke a partisan deadlock at the agency. That’s good news for Lina Khan, the agency’s chair and a Democrat.It is also a test.With the F.T.C.’s new Democratic majority — which came with the confirmation of Alvaro Bedoya, who becomes the fifth commissioner, in a slot that had been vacant since October — Ms. Khan’s allies and critics are watching to see if she pushes forward plans to address corporate power. That could include filing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, setting online privacy rules and tapping little-used agency powers to clip the wings of companies like Meta, Apple and Google.As Congress remains gridlocked and the midterm elections near, agencies like the F.T.C. and the Department of Justice are likely the best remaining hope for activists and policymakers who want the government to restrain corporate power. President Biden, who has promised to crack down, last year ordered the F.T.C. and other federal agencies to take steps to limit concentration.Under Ms. Khan, 33, who became the chair in June, the F.T.C. has already tried tamping down mergers by threatening to challenge deals after they close. The commission has said it will punish companies that make it hard for users to repair their products. And it settled a case with the company once known as Weight Watchers over a diet app that collected data from young children.But Ms. Khan’s new Democratic majority is essential for a broader “realization of her vision,” said William E. Kovacic, a former chair of the F.T.C. “And the clock’s ticking.”In a statement, Ms. Khan said she was “excited” to work with Mr. Bedoya and the other commissioners. She did not address how the F.T.C.’s new majority would affect her plans.The F.T.C.’s previous split between two Republicans and two Democrats led to impasses. In February, the commission couldn’t reach an agreement to move forward with a study of the practices of pharmacy benefit managers.Sarah Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, a progressive group that wants more antitrust enforcement, described the F.T.C.’s two Republicans, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, as “libertarian holdouts” who have “kind of thrown the brakes” on Ms. Khan’s ability to advance her agenda.Mr. Phillips said in an email that he supported the commission’s “long tradition of bipartisan work to advance the interests of American consumers.” But he will not support Ms. Khan’s agenda when it “exceeds our legal authority,” raises prices for consumers or harms innovation, he said.Ms. Wilson pointed to three speeches she gave over the last year criticizing Ms. Khan’s philosophy. In one speech last month, Ms. Wilson said Ms. Khan and her allies were drawing on tenets from Marxism.Alvaro Bedoya, a Democrat, was confirmed on Wednesday as the fifth member of the F.T.C.Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, said Wednesday’s vote confirming Mr. Bedoya was “pivotal to unshackling the F.T.C.”Now Ms. Khan may gain the ability to pursue a legal case against Amazon. She wrote a student law review article in 2017 criticizing the company’s dominance. The F.T.C. began investigating the retail giant under the Trump administration; some state attorneys general have also conducted inquiries into the company.Ms. Khan could file a lawsuit to challenge Amazon’s recent purchase of the movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. When the $8.5 billion transaction closed in March, an F.T.C. spokeswoman noted that the agency “may challenge a deal at any time if it determines that it violates the law.”Ms. Khan may put her stamp on other deals. The agency is examining Microsoft’s $70 billion purchase of the video game publisher Activision Blizzard and sent a request to the companies this year for additional information.An executive order from Mr. Biden last year encouraging more aggressive antitrust policy pushed the F.T.C. and the Justice Department to update the guidelines they use to approve deals, which could lead to stricter scrutiny. Ms. Khan is likely to need the support of the commission’s two other Democrats, Mr. Bedoya and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, to approve aggressive new guidelines or to challenge major mergers.Ms. Khan has also said she wants to bulk up the agency’s powers by considering regulations governing privacy and how algorithms make decisions. She has said that the F.T.C. underutilized its role as a rules-making body and that regulations would enhance its mandate to protect consumers.“Given that our economy will only continue to further digitize, marketwide rules could help provide clear notice and render enforcement more impactful and efficient,” she said last month at a privacy conference.The F.T.C. could also act on requests from progressive activist groups that want the agency to ban data-driven advertising business models and forbid noncompete agreements that stop workers from taking a job with a competitor of their current employer.But former F.T.C. officials said Ms. Khan faced challenges, even with the Democratic majority. The creation of privacy regulations could take years, said Daniel Kaufman, a former deputy head of the agency’s consumer protection bureau. Businesses are likely to challenge rules in court that don’t fit into the F.T.C.’s mandate to protect consumers from deceptive and unfair practices.“The F.T.C.’s rule-making abilities are not designed to tackle behavioral advertising so I’ve been telling my clients the agency could kick something off with a lot of press but it’s unclear where it will go,” Mr. Kaufman, a partner at the law firm BakerHostetler, said.Ms. Khan’s efforts are also sure to continue facing opposition from Mr. Phillips and Ms. Wilson. Mr. Phillips has said he has reservations about the agency’s becoming a more muscular regulator. In January, he said Congress, not the F.T.C., should be the one to make new privacy rules.Ms. Wilson recently posted screenshots of an internal survey showing that satisfaction among the F.T.C.’s career staff has fallen. “New leadership has marginalized and disrespected staff, resulting in a brain drain that will take a generation to fix,” she said.To overcome their opposition, Ms. Khan will have to keep her majority intact. That gives leverage to Mr. Bedoya, a privacy expert who has focused on the civil rights dangers of new technologies, and Ms. Slaughter, a former top member of Senator Schumer’s staff.Ms. Slaughter said in a statement that Mr. Bedoya’s privacy expertise would serve the F.T.C. well. She did not comment on the agency’s Democratic majority.Mr. Bedoya was tight-lipped about his own plans, saying only that he was “excited” to work with his new F.T.C. colleagues. More

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    Biden Says Inflation Is His ‘Top Domestic Priority’

    President Biden tried on Tuesday to deflect blame for rising prices with a direct attack on Republicans for pursuing what he called an “ultra-MAGA agenda,” a phrase he has used in recent days as a reference to former President Donald J. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.Mr. Biden’s critics have assailed the president for months as inflation has risen to 8.5 percent, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981. A news release from the Republican National Committee on Tuesday accused him of being “desperate to blame anyone but himself for the worst inflation in 40 years,” adding that “the American people know he is responsible.”Seeking to turn the debate over the economy against his opponents six months before the midterm congressional elections, Mr. Biden and his top White House aides insisted that “extreme” policy ideas from Republicans would make inflation worse, not better.“Look, the bottom line is this: Americans have a choice right now between two paths, reflecting two very different sets of values,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at the White House. “My plan attacks inflation and grows the economy by lowering costs for working families, giving workers well-deserved raises, reducing the deficit by historic levels and making big corporations and the very wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.”By contrast, he said, Republican policies would help the wealthiest Americans and big corporations while leaving working families to bear the brunt of cost increases.The president’s message on Tuesday was part of an attempt to change the national conversation about the economy in ways that Democrats hope will shield them from a punishing result at the ballot box in November.Mr. Biden delivered his remarks a day before another economic report was expected to show uncomfortably high prices. While the Consumer Price Index, which will be released on Wednesday morning, could show that inflation cooled somewhat from March, most economists still expect the report to show inflation running above 8 percent.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.But Mr. Biden has seized on a program set forth by Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called the “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which critics have said would impose taxes on millions of Americans who pay none now and phase out programs like Social Security and Medicare after five years.Other Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have repudiated elements of the plan, which Mr. Scott put forward as a platform for the midterm elections. But the White House on Tuesday ignored any disagreement among Republicans, describing the proposal as the only comprehensive economic plan put forth by the party to deal with inflation.“This is not the last you’ve heard from us about Chairman Scott’s tax plan that will raise taxes,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, promised. She pointed out that Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, had praised Mr. Scott’s plan, as had some congressional Republicans.Ms. Psaki said it was Mr. Biden’s decision to use the phrase “ultra-MAGA” to refer to Mr. Scott’s plan and other Republican policies, saying he believed it added “a little extra pop” to his critique of the Republican agenda. And she said the president’s speech on Tuesday was just the beginning.“I can tell you, whether it’s tomorrow or in days and weeks ahead, you will all continue to hear him talk more about his concern about ultra-MAGA Republicans,” she said.Earlier Tuesday, the president sought to convince Americans that he understood the pain they were feeling from rising prices and that his administration was taking steps to address higher costs for fuel, food and other goods.“I know that families all across America are hurting because of inflation,” Mr. Biden said. “I understand what it feels like. I come from a family where, when the price of gas or food went up, we felt it.”He added, “I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously and it’s my top domestic priority.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    U.S. to Lift Tariffs on Ukrainian Steel

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would lift tariffs on Ukrainian steel for one year, halting a measure that President Donald J. Trump placed on that country and many others in 2018.The move comes as the Biden administration looks for ways to assist Ukraine during the Russian invasion. Ukraine is a fairly minor supplier of U.S. steel, shipping about 218,000 metric tons in 2019, to rank 12th among America’s foreign suppliers. However, the sector is a significant source of economic growth and employment for Ukraine, and steel mills have continued to provide paychecks, food and shelter for their workers through the war.When Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of Ukraine visited Washington last month, he told administration officials that some Ukrainian steel mills were starting to produce again after initially shutting down because of the invasion. He asked the Biden administration to suspend the tariffs, a senior Commerce Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly before the official announcement, said on Monday.The United States imposed a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 percent tariff on foreign aluminum three years ago on national security grounds, arguing that a flood of cheap metal had decimated American manufacturing and posed a threat to its military and industrial capacity.Ukraine is a significant steel producer, ranking 13th globally. Most of the country’s factories and other economic activity have been frozen as workers are called off to fight and shipments of parts and raw materials are disrupted during the war. Many major Ukrainian steel mills halted their operations in late February because of major disruptions to logistics routes required to ship metal out of the country, analysts at S&P Global said.The senior Commerce Department official said that Ukrainian steel plants had been cut off from some of their more traditional markets in the Middle East and Africa, as the war closed shipping lanes through the Black Sea. In order to continue to support its plants, the Ukrainian government is now aiming to move steel by rail to Romania, and then on to markets in Europe, Britain and the United States, the official said.The Commerce Department has noted that the steel industry is uniquely important to Ukraine’s economic strength, employing one in 13 people there.A steel mill in Mariupol under siege by Russian forces sheltered thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians for weeks. Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that all the women, children and elderly people who had been trapped for weeks in the plant were evacuated.“For steel mills to continue as an economic lifeline for the people of Ukraine, they must be able to export their steel,” Gina M. Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in the announcement. “Today’s announcement is a signal to the Ukrainian people that we are committed to helping them thrive in the face of Putin’s aggression, and that their work will create a stronger Ukraine, both today and in the future.”The move is one of a variety of economic measures aimed at penalizing Russia and assisting Ukraine. Those include a broad swath of sanctions on Russian entities, export controls that have limited Russian imports and $3.8 billion in arms and equipment for the Ukrainian government, in addition to other direct financial assistance.Senators called on the administration last month to lift the steel tariffs, saying it would help the industry bounce back immediately after the war.“Lifting the U.S. tariff on steel from Ukraine is a small but meaningful way for the U.S. to signal support for Ukraine and to provide stability,” Senators Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, wrote in a letter.Many other major steel-producing countries have had their tariffs lifted or eased. During his presidency, Mr. Trump negotiated deals with South Korea, Mexico, Canada and other countries to replace the tariffs with quotas or so-called tariff rate quotas, which restrain the volume of a product coming into the United States but allow at least some of it to be imported at lower tariff rates.Russia-Ukraine War: Key DevelopmentsCard 1 of 3Putin’s Victory Day speech. More

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    Biden and Harris meet with labor organizers from Amazon and Starbucks.

    President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh met Thursday at the White House with several union organizers involved in successful campaigns at companies including Amazon and Starbucks.The meeting was intended to discuss how the recent organizing successes can inspire other workers to join or form a union, according to the White House.Alex Speidel, an employee and union leader at Paizo, a publisher of role-playing games in the Seattle area, said the administration officials “were interested in hearing about how we had been successful — what things we had done to motivate people without the union history in their families, first-time union joiners.”A high-profile White House event focused primarily on rank-and-file union members and grassroots organizers is unusual for a president of either party. But a task force on worker organizing led by Ms. Harris, which officially organized Thursday’s meeting, has met with workers outside the White House on several occasions, and rank-and-file union members have attended White House events under Mr. Biden. There have also been White House meetings with labor leaders and senior labor officials.Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, asked Mr. Biden to press Amazon’s leadership to recognize the union and to begin collective bargaining, and Mr. Biden expressed general support in response, according to Mr. Speidel and another attendee, Jaimie Caldwell, a librarian at the Baltimore County Public Library in Maryland. A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency, to certify unions. She also pointed to earlier remarks by Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, noting that President Biden is a longtime advocate “for collective bargaining, for the rights of workers to organize, and their decision to do exactly that” in the case of Amazon.The meeting comes at a time when union organizers have won several high-profile elections, including more than 50 at Starbucks locations and at the Staten Island warehouse where Mr. Smalls led a unionization effort.In addition to union leaders and workers from Amazon, Starbucks, Paizo and the Baltimore County Public Library, the meeting included workers from the outdoor apparel retailer REI and the animation production company Titmouse.Labor leaders often describe Mr. Biden as the most pro-labor president of their lifetimes, pointing to his replacement of government officials they disliked with those more sympathetic to unions, and to the undoing of Trump-era rules that weakened worker protections.During a high-profile union campaign at Amazon last year, Mr. Biden warned that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” and he later criticized Kellogg for its plans to permanently replace striking workers during a labor dispute. Both were unusual interjections by a sitting president. More

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    Biden Administration Plays Down Growth Decline in G.D.P. Report

    The White House dismissed a slump in first-quarter growth that was driven by a quirk in inventories and a jump in imports, emphasizing that Thursday’s report on gross domestic product also pointed to underlying strength in consumer spending.G.D.P. declined 0.4 percent in the first quarter after adjusting for inflation, or 1.4 percent on an annualized basis, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Companies had stockpiled inventories in the fourth quarter and built them more slowly at the start of the year, and imports far outstripped exports as Americans bought goods from abroad, driving the decline.“While last quarter’s growth estimate was affected by technical factors, the United States confronts the challenges of Covid-19 around the world, Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and global inflation from a position of strength,” President Biden said in a statement following the release, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Biden also noted that “consumer spending, business investment, and residential investment increased at strong rates.”Mr. Biden and Democrats are facing a challenging midterm election year as inflation runs at its fastest pace in four decades, chipping away at household budgets and eroding consumer confidence. At the same time, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to try to keep rapid price increases from becoming permanent, which could begin to meaningfully cool down the economy just as voters head to the polls.The administration has tried to pin high inflation on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the war has pushed gas and other commodity prices higher, inflation was high even before Russia’s attack.Republicans have seized on rising prices to blast Mr. Biden’s economic policies. The decline in growth at the start of the year gave them room to ramp up that criticism.“Accelerating inflation, a worker crisis, and the growing risk of a significant recession are the signature economic failures of the Biden administration,” Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in a news release on Thursday.Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, also blamed Democrats for the drop in growth and 40-year high inflation levels.“In 15 months, one-party Democrat rule has squandered America’s recovery and left you paying the price,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter.The Biden administration’s 2021 economic stimulus, which sent checks to households and provided other relief at a time when the job market was already recovering, has been criticized by economists for helping to stoke excessively strong consumer demand. That probably ramped up inflationary pressures as the economy reopened, some research has suggested.Republicans often seize on that to argue that the burst in inflation is the administration’s fault. But administration officials point out that their policies helped to drive a swift recovery, came at an uncertain moment, and built on a pandemic response started under the Trump administration.In a speech on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen defended the scale of the efforts to support the economy. She recalled the dire economic projections in the early days of the pandemic and said that the spending was needed to avert a worst-case scenario, though some economists warned that the final installation in 2021 was too much and too poorly targeted even at the time of its passage.“Throughout 2020, and into 2021, the path of the pandemic, including its severity and the role of future viral strains could not be predicted,” Ms. Yellen said at an event at the Brookings Institution held by the Hamilton Project and Hutchins Center. “Given this uncertainty, the recovery packages sought to protect against tail risk.” More

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    Trump Officials Gave Pandemic Loan to Trucking Company Despite Objections

    WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday released a report alleging that top Trump administration officials had awarded a $700 million pandemic relief loan to a struggling trucking company in 2020 over the objections of career officials at the Defense Department.The report, released by the Democratic staff of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, describes the role of corporate lobbyists during the early months of the pandemic in helping to secure government funds as trillions of dollars of relief money were being pumped into the economy. It also suggests that senior officials such as Steven Mnuchin, the former Treasury secretary, and Mark T. Esper, the former defense secretary, intervened to ensure that the trucking company, Yellow Corporation, received special treatment despite concerns about its eligibility to receive relief funds.“Today’s select subcommittee staff report reveals yet another example of the Trump administration disregarding their obligation to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic chairman of the subcommittee, said in a statement. “Political appointees risked hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds against the recommendations of career D.O.D. officials and in clear disregard of provisions of the CARES Act intended to protect national security and American taxpayers.”The $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package that Congress passed in 2020 included a $17 billion pot of money set up by Congress and controlled by the Treasury Department to assist companies that were considered critical to national security. In July 2020, the Treasury Department announced it was giving a $700 million loan to the trucking company YRC Worldwide, which has since changed its name to Yellow.Lobbyists for Yellow had been in close touch with White House officials throughout the loan process and had discussed how the company employs Teamsters as its drivers, according to the report.Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was a “key actor” coordinating with Yellow’s lobbyists, according to correspondences that the committee obtained. The report also noted that the White House’s political operation was “almost giddy” in its effort to assist with the application.The loan raised immediate questions from watchdog groups because of the company’s close ties to the Trump administration and because it had faced years of financial and legal turmoil. The firm had lost more than $100 million in 2019 and was being sued by the Justice Department over claims that it had defrauded the federal government for a seven-year period. It recently agreed to pay $6.85 million to resolve allegations “that they knowingly presented false claims to the U.S. Department of Defense by systematically overcharging for freight carrier services and making false statements to hide their misconduct.”To qualify for a national security loan, a company needed certification by the Defense Department.According to the report, defense officials had recommended against certification because of the accusations that the company had overcharged the government. They also noted that the work that the company had been doing for the federal government — which included shipping meal kits, protective equipment and other supplies to military bases — could be replaced by other trucking firms.But the day after a defense official notified a Treasury official that the company would not be certified, one of Mr. Mnuchin’s aides set up a telephone call between him and Mr. Esper.The report indicated that Mr. Esper was not initially familiar with the status of Yellow’s certification. Before the call, aides prepared a summary of the analysis and recommendations of the department’s career officials that concluded that the certification should be rejected. Before those reached Mr. Esper, Ellen M. Lord, the department’s under secretary for acquisition and sustainment who was appointed by Mr. Trump, intervened and requested a new set of talking points that argued that the company should receive the financial support “to both support force readiness and national economic security.” Ms. Lord could not immediately be reached for comment.After the call with Mr. Mnuchin, Mr. Esper certified that the company was critical to national security, and a week later the approval of the loan was announced.Mr. Mnuchin then sent an email to Mr. Meadows that included news reports praising the loan. He highlighted positive comments from James P. Hoffa, the longtime president of the Teamsters union, who according to documents in the report made a direct plea to President Donald J. Trump about the loan.Mr. Esper and Mr. Mnuchin declined to comment. A former Treasury official familiar with the process said the loan saved 25,000 union jobs during an economic crisis and prevented disruption to the national supply chain that the Defense Department, businesses and consumers had depended on. The former official said that because of the terms of the loan, taxpayers were profiting from the agreement.A spokesman for Mr. Esper said that the company met the criteria to be eligible for the loan and emphasized that the report made clear that senior staff at the Defense Department recommended that he certify it. The Treasury Department made the final decision to issue the loan, the spokesman added.The Trump InvestigationsCard 1 of 6Numerous inquiries. More

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    Biden to Nominate Michael Barr as Fed Vice Chair for Supervision

    The Biden administration said on Friday that it intended to nominate Michael S. Barr, a law professor and a former Obama administration official, to be the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for supervision.The position — one of America’s top financial regulatory spots — has proved to be a particularly thorny one to fill.The administration’s initial nominee, Sarah Bloom Raskin, failed to win Senate confirmation after Republicans took issue with her writing on climate-related financial oversight and seized on her limited answers about her private-sector work. Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, joined Republicans in deciding not to support her, ending her chances.Mr. Barr, the dean of the University of Michigan’s public policy school, could also face challenges in securing widespread support. He was a leading contender to be nominated as comptroller of the currency but ran into opposition from progressive Democrats.Some of the complaints centered on his work in government: As a Treasury Department official during the Obama administration, Mr. Barr played a major role in putting together the Dodd-Frank Act, which revamped financial regulation after the 2008 financial crisis. But some said he opposed some especially stringent measures for big banks.Other opponents when his name was floated for that post focused on his private-sector work with the financial technology and cryptocurrency industry.But President Biden described Mr. Barr as a qualified candidate who would bring years of experience to the job.“Barr has strong support from across the political spectrum,” the president said in a statement announcing the decision. He noted that Mr. Barr had been confirmed to his Treasury post “on a bipartisan basis.”Senator Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement, “I will support this key nominee, and I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to abandon their old playbook of personal attacks and demagoguery.”Ian Katz, managing director at the research and advisory firm Capital Alpha, put Mr. Barr’s chance of confirmation at 60 percent. “Barr is seen by many as more moderate than Sarah Bloom Raskin,” Mr. Katz wrote in a note ahead of the announcement but after speculation that Mr. Barr might be chosen.Mr. Barr completes Mr. Biden’s slate of candidates for the central bank’s five open positions.The other picks — Jerome H. Powell for another term as Fed chair, Lael Brainard for vice chair, and Lisa D. Cook and Philip N. Jefferson for seats on the Board of Governors — await confirmation. Those nominations have gotten past the Senate Banking Committee, the first step toward confirmation, and a vote before the full Senate is expected in the coming weeks.Mr. Biden said he would work with the committee to get Mr. Barr through his first vote quickly, and he called for swift confirmation of the others. More

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    Supply Chain Hurdles Will Outlast Covid Pandemic, White House Says

    The administration’s economic advisers see climate change and other factors complicating global trade patterns for years to come.The coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effects have snarled supply chains around the world, contributing to shipping backlogs, product shortages and the fastest inflation in decades.But in a report released Thursday, White House economists argue that while the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, it didn’t create them — and they warned that the problems won’t go away when the pandemic ends.“Though modern supply chains have driven down consumer prices for many goods, they can also easily break,” the Council of Economic Advisers wrote. Climate change, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters that comes with it, will make future disruptions inevitable, the group said.White House economists analyzed the supply chain as part of the Economic Report of the President. The annual document, which this year runs more than 400 pages, typically offers few new policy proposals, but it outlines the administration’s thinking on key economic issues facing the country, and on how the president hopes to address them.This year’s report focuses on the role of government in the economy, and calls for the government to do more to combat slowing productivity growth, declining labor force participation, rising inequality and other trends that long predated the pandemic.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: Times readers sent us their questions about rising prices. Top experts and economists weighed in.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising interest rates for the first time since 2018.How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.“The U.S. is among and remains one of the strongest economies in the world, but if we look at trends over the last several decades, some of those trends threaten to undermine that standing,” Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. The problem is in part that “the public sector has retreated from its role.”The report dedicates one of its seven chapters to supply chains, noting that the once-esoteric subject “entered dinner-table conversations” in 2021. In recent decades, Ms. Rouse and the report’s other authors write, U.S. manufacturers have increasingly relied on parts produced in low-cost countries, especially China, a practice known as offshoring. At the same time, companies have adopted just-in-time production strategies that minimize the parts and materials they keep in inventory.The result, the authors argue, are supply chains that are efficient but brittle — vulnerable to breaking down in the face of a pandemic, a war or a natural disaster.“Because of outsourcing, offshoring and insufficient investment in resilience, many supply chains have become complex and fragile,” they write, adding: “This evolution has also been driven by shortsighted assumptions about cost reduction that have ignored important costs that are hard to turn into financial measures, or that spilled over to affect others.”But some economists noted that making supply chains more resilient could carry its own costs, making products more expensive when inflation is already a major concern.Adam S. Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might lead companies to locate at least some of their supply chains in places that were more politically stable and less strategically vulnerable. But pushing companies to duplicate production could waste taxpayer dollars and introduce inefficiencies, raising prices for consumers and lowering growth.“At best you’re paying an insurance premium,” he said. “At worst you’re doing something for completely political reasons that’s very economically inefficient.”Other economists have emphasized that global supply chains are not always a source of fragility — sometimes they can be a source of resilience, too.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More