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    Janet Yellen says she supports eliminating the debt limit.

    Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Thursday that the statutory debt limit should be abolished, arguing that the borrowing cap is “destructive” and poses unnecessary risks to the economy.She made the comments at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, as the United States faces an Oct. 18 deadline to raise or suspend the debt limit. Ms. Yellen warned on Thursday that failure to act would be “catastrophic” for the economy and said she supported proposed legislation to do away with the limit because it blocks the government from carrying out spending that Congress has authorized.“I believe when Congress legislates expenditures and puts in place tax policy that determines taxes, those are the crucial decisions Congress is making,” Ms. Yellen said. “And if to finance those spending and tax decisions it is necessary to issue additional debt, I believe it is very destructive to put the president and myself, as Treasury secretary, in a situation where we might be unable to pay the bills that result from those past decisions.”The debt limit was instituted in the early 20th century so the Treasury did not need to ask for permission each time it needed to issue bonds to pay bills. The first debt limit was part of the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, according to the Congressional Research Service. A general limit on the federal debt was imposed in 1939.Republicans are refusing to join Democrats in raising the debt limit, insisting that they act alone in protest of big spending packages that Democrats hope to enact. At Thursday’s hearing, Ms. Yellen said dealing with the debt limit should be a bipartisan responsibility, because it allows the government to repay debts that were incurred by Democrats and Republicans.If the debt limit is not addressed by the Oct. 18 deadline, Social Security payments will be delayed, troops might not receive their paychecks on time, and interest rates for mortgages and car loans could spike.Ms. Yellen also warned that an erosion of confidence in the security of U.S. Treasury debt would be a “catastrophic event.” More

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    Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell warn that the Delta variant is slowing the recovery.

    America’s two top economic policymakers will warn lawmakers on Tuesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus has slowed the economic recovery but will convey optimism about the economy’s overall trajectory, according to prepared remarks.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, will testify before the Senate Banking Committee as the U.S. economy is at a crossroads, with businesses facing labor shortages and consumers coping with rising prices amid a resurgent pandemic. Congress is also grappling with a thicket of legislative challenges in the coming days, all of which could have an impact on the economy. They include extending federal funding to avoid a U.S. government shutdown, raising the debt limit to prevent defaulting on the nation’s financial obligations and passing President Biden’s infrastructure and social safety net packages.“While our economy continues to expand and recapture a substantial share of the jobs lost during 2020, significant challenges from the Delta variant continue to suppress the speed of the recovery and present substantial barriers to a vibrant economy,” Ms. Yellen will say, according to her prepared remarks. “Still, I remain optimistic about the medium-term trajectory of our economy, and I expect we will return to full employment next year.”The testimony will offer Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell a chance to publicly press lawmakers to take action to raise or suspend the nation’s borrowing cap and to warn of the calamitous consequences if the United States defaulted on its obligations. Ms. Yellen has cautioned that debt-limit brinkmanship is eroding confidence in the United States and that a default, which could happen as soon as mid-October, would do irreparable harm to the economy.For weeks, Ms. Yellen has been quietly pressing lawmakers to put politics aside and ensure that the United States can continue to meet its fiscal obligations. She has been in touch with Wall Street chief executives and former Treasury secretaries as she looks to keep markets calm and find allies who can help her make the case to recalcitrant Republicans, who believe Democrats must deal with the debt limit on their own.“It is imperative that Congress swiftly addresses the debt limit,” Ms. Yellen will say. “The full faith and credit of the United States would be impaired, and our country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession.”Mr. Powell is slated to tell senators that the Fed will continue to support the economy with its monetary policies, which influence how expensive it is to borrow and spend. But he will also make it clear that Fed officials will act if a recent jump higher in prices persists.“Inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell is prepared to say, based on remarks released Monday afternoon.He will cite the lingering coronavirus pandemic as a risk to the economic outlook, according to his prepared statement.Mr. Powell has also fretted about the debt limit in recent weeks, saying during a news conference last week that default is “just not something that we should contemplate,” and that “no one should assume that the Fed or anyone else can protect the markets or the economy in the event of a failure, fully protect in the event of a failure to make sure that we do pay those debts when they’re due.”Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell will testify again on Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee. More

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    Treasury's Janet Yellen Is Being Tested by Debt Limit Fight

    The Treasury secretary must wade into a standoff between Democrats and Republicans over raising the debt limit.WASHINGTON — When Janet L. Yellen was Federal Reserve chair in 2014, she faced a grilling from Republicans about whether the federal government had a plan if the nation’s borrowing limit was breached and measures to keep paying the country’s bills were exhausted.Ms. Yellen, appearing at a congressional hearing, outlined a dire scenario in which financial institutions might try to make payments that they could not cover, because the Treasury Department was out of money, leading to a cascade of bounced checks. She pushed back against the notion held by some Republicans that an economic meltdown could be averted, warning that there was no secret contingency plan.“To the best of my knowledge, there is no written-down plan,” Ms. Yellen said at the time, adding that it was beyond her remit at the Fed. “That’s a matter that is entirely up to the Treasury.”Fending off such a calamity is now squarely the responsibility of Ms. Yellen, who is confronting the biggest test she has faced in her eight months as President Biden’s Treasury secretary. Mr. Biden chose Ms. Yellen to help steer the economy out of the pandemic downturn. But in the face of congressional dysfunction, she has been thrust into a political role, trying to convince reticent Republican lawmakers that their refusal to lift the debt cap — which limits the government’s ability to borrow money — could lead to a financial collapse.It is not a comfortable spot for Ms. Yellen, an economist by training who is now trying to navigate the rough political waters that she tends to avoid by countering legislative gamesmanship with economic logic.Over the past month, Ms. Yellen has reached out to Democrats and top Republican leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. She has used those calls to convey the economic risks, warning that the Treasury’s ability to stave off default is limited and that failure to lift or suspend the debt cap by sometime next month would be “catastrophic.”Ms. Yellen has reminded Republicans in the calls that they have been willing to join Democrats in lifting the debt ceiling in the past, and that raising the cap allows the U.S. to pay its existing bills and does not authorize new spending.Thus far, Republicans seem unmoved by Ms. Yellen’s overtures.In a call with Ms. Yellen last week, Mr. Brady said he told the secretary that he would be happy to work with her on a bipartisan framework focused on financial stability and curbing government spending but, barring that, Democrats should not expect Republicans to help them address the debt limit.“They are playing a dangerous political game with our economy and it’s absolutely unnecessary,” Mr. Brady said on Wednesday.Mr. McConnell conveyed a similar message during a telephone conversation with Ms. Yellen last week, his spokesman said. Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff, Brian McGuire, said the Kentucky Republican would not be persuaded by pressure tactics and suggested that the Treasury secretary should direct her economic warnings at Democrats.“If I were advising Secretary Yellen, I’d suggest she be highly skeptical of the Democratic strategy on the debt limit,” said Mr. McGuire, who was Treasury’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs from 2019 to 2020.On Thursday, Ms. Yellen appeared at a news conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. Ms. Pelosi assailed Republicans for refusing to join Democrats in covering costs that both parties have incurred, including the $1.5 trillion tax cuts that Republicans passed during the Trump administration.“This is a credit-card bill that we owe,” Ms. Pelosi said.Democrats wanted to pair the federal debt limit increase with legislation to keep the government funded through early December, which would require Republican support in the Senate. With no such agreement in sight, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Thursday alerted federal agencies to review their shutdown plans, given funding is scheduled to lapse next week.Democrats do have another legislative option for raising the borrowing cap — they could pair it with the $3.5 trillion spending bill that they are aiming to pass along party lines using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation. However, that would impose procedural hurdles they are trying to avoid, and Democrats have yet to agree on what the spending bill should include or how to pay for it. Party leaders claimed progress toward a deal on Thursday, saying they had agreed upon an array of possible ways to pay for it. But they offered no details about what programs would be included or what the total cost would eventually be, and what they called a “framework agreement” appeared to be modest.With the debt limit increase becoming so contentious, Ms. Pelosi signaled for the first time on Thursday that Democrats could ultimately strip it from the government funding bill because of Republican opposition.“We will keep our government open by Sept. 30, which is our date, and continue the conversation about the debt ceiling, but not for long,” she said.Ms. Yellen, who has kept a low public profile in the last month, did not make a statement at the news conference and took no questions.In private, she has tried to amp up the pressure. Ms. Yellen has personally warned the chief executives of the nation’s largest banks and financial institutions about the very real risk of default. Over the past several days she has spoken to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, David M. Solomon of Goldman Sachs, Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America and Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, telling them about the disastrous impact a default would have, according to people familiar with the calls.The banking industry traditionally wields significant influence with Republicans; the biggest financial services lobbying groups wrote a letter to top lawmakers earlier this month urging them to take action.“Any default would negatively impact the general economy, disrupt the operations of our financial markets, undermine confidence, and raise funding costs in the future,” they wrote.Ms. Yellen has also sought the counsel of her predecessors, including Steven T. Mnuchin, Jacob J. Lew, Timothy F. Geithner and Henry M. Paulson. Mr. Paulson, who served under President George W. Bush and maintains strong ties with Republican lawmakers, has echoed Ms. Yellen’s concerns about the impact of a default in conversations with Mr. McConnell, according to a person familiar with the matter.Earlier this week, six former Treasury secretaries sent a letter to top lawmakers, warning that a default would blunt economic growth, roil financial markets and sap confidence in the United States.“Failing to address the debt limit, and allowing an unprecedented default, could cause serious economic and national security harm,” they wrote in the letter that was published by Ms. Yellen’s Treasury Department.Ms. Yellen’s task has been complicated by the fact that while she can readily convey the economic risks of default, the debt limit has become wrapped up in a larger partisan battle over Mr. Biden’s entire agenda, including the $3.5 trillion spending bill.Republicans, including Mr. McConnell, have insisted that if Democrats want to pass a big spending bill, then they should bear responsibility for raising the borrowing limit. Democrats call that position nonsense, noting that the debt limit needs to be raised because of spending that lawmakers, including Republicans, have already approved.“This seems to be some sort of high-stakes partisan poker on Capitol Hill, and that’s not what her background is,” said David Wessel, a senior economic fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked with Ms. Yellen at Brookings.While lawmakers squabble on Capitol Hill, Ms. Yellen’s team at Treasury has been trying to buy as much time as possible. After a two-year suspension of the statutory debt limit expired at the end of July, Ms. Yellen has been employing an array of fiscal accounting tools known as “extraordinary measures” to stave off a default.Uncertainty over the debt limit has yet to spook markets, but Ms. Yellen is receiving briefings multiple times a week by career staff on the state of the nation’s finances. They are keeping her informed about the use of extraordinary measures, such as suspending investments of the Exchange Stabilization Fund and suspending the issuing of new securities for the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, and carefully reviewing Treasury’s cash balance. Because corporate tax receipts are coming in stronger than expected, the debt limit might not be breached until mid- to late October, Ms. Yellen has told lawmakers.A Treasury spokeswoman said that Ms. Yellen is not considering fallback plans such as prioritizing debt payments if Congress fails to act, explaining that the only way for the government to address the debt ceiling is for lawmakers to raise or suspend the limit. However, she has reviewed some of the ideas that were developed by Treasury during the debt limit standoff of 2011, when partisan brinkmanship brought the nation to the cusp of default.A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center underscored the fact that if Congress fails to address the debt limit, Ms. Yellen will be left with no good options. If the true deadline is Oct. 15, for example, the Treasury Department would be approximately $265 billion short of paying all of its bills through mid-November. About 40 percent of the funds that are owed would go unpaid.“Realistically, on a day-to-day basis, fulfilling all payments for important and popular programs would quickly become impossible,” the report said, pointing to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, and military active duty pay.Tony Fratto, a Treasury official during the Bush administration, lamented that Ms. Yellen is operating without any leverage. Democrats, he said, appeared to have miscalculated when they thought that Republicans would be too ashamed to block a debt limit vote after supporting a suspension of the borrowing cap when President Donald J. Trump was in office.“I think that was in the ‘hope’ category,” Mr. Fratto said. “This is Washington in 2021 — your hopes will be dashed.”Lananh Nguyen More

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    Fed Officials’ Trading Draws Outcry, and Fuels Calls for Accountability

    Central bank regional presidents traded securities in markets in which Fed choices mattered in 2020. Here’s why critics find that troubling.Federal Reserve officials traded stocks and other securities in 2020, a year in which the central bank took emergency steps to prop up financial markets and prevent their collapse — raising questions about whether the Fed’s ethics standards have become too lax as its role has vastly expanded.The trades appeared to be legal and in compliance with Fed rules. Million-dollar stock transactions from the Dallas Fed president, Robert S. Kaplan, have drawn particular attention, but none took place when the central bank was most actively backstopping financial markets in late March and April.However, the mere possibility that Fed officials might be able to financially benefit from information they learn through their positions has prompted criticism of perceived shortcomings in the institution’s ethics rules, which were forged decades ago and are now struggling to keep up with the central bank’s 21st century function.“What we have now is an ethics system built on a very narrow conception of what a central bank is and should be,” said Peter Conti-Brown, a Fed historian at the University of Pennsylvania.On Thursday, Mr. Kaplan and Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said they would sell all the individual stocks they own by Sept. 30 and move their financial holdings into passive investments.“While my financial transactions conducted during my years as Dallas Fed president have complied with the Federal Reserve’s ethics rules, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest, I have decided to change my personal investment practices,” Mr. Kaplan said in a statement. He added that “there will be no trading in these accounts as long as I am serving as president of the Dallas Fed.”Mr. Rosengren, who had drawn criticism for trading in securities tied to real estate, also said he would divest his stock holdings and expressed regret about the perception of his transactions.“I made some personal investment decisions last year that were permissible under Fed ethics rules,” he said in a statement. “Regrettably, the appearance of such permissible personal investment decisions has generated some questions, so I have made the decision to divest these assets to underscore my commitment to Fed ethics guidelines. It is extremely important to me to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and I believe these steps will achieve that.”It was unclear on Thursday evening whether those moves would be enough to stop the groundswell of criticism as economists, academics and former employees asked why Fed officials are allowed to invest so broadly.The Fed has gone from serving as a lender of last resort mostly to banks to, at extreme moments in both 2008 and 2020, using its tools to rescue large swaths of the financial system. That includes propping up the market for short-term corporate debt during the Great Recession and backstopping long-term company debt and enabling loans to Main Street businesses during the 2020 pandemic crisis.That role has helped to make the Fed and its officials privy to information affecting every corner of finance.Yet central bankers can still actively buy and sell most stocks and some types of bonds, subject to some limitations. They have long been barred from owning and trading the securities of supervised banks, in a nod to the Fed’s pivotal role in bank oversight, but those clear-cut restrictions have not widened alongside the Fed’s influence.“Just as there is a set of rules for bank stocks, why not look to see if it is valuable to expand that to other assets that are directly affected by Fed policy?” said Roberto Perli at Cornerstone Macro, a former Fed Board employee himself. “There are plenty of people out there who think the Fed does nefarious things, and these headlines may contribute to that perception.”The 2020 batch of disclosures has received extra attention because the Fed spent last year unveiling never-before-attempted programs to save a broad array of financial markets from pandemic fallout. Regional Fed presidents like Mr. Kaplan did not vote on the backstops, but they were regularly consulted on their design.Critics said that raised the possibility — and risked creating the perception — that Fed presidents had access to information that could have benefited their personal trading.Mr. Kaplan made nearly two dozen stock trades of $1 million or more last year, a fact first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Those included transactions in companies whose stocks were affected by the pandemic — such as Johnson & Johnson and several oil and gas companies — and in firms whose bonds the Fed eventually bought in its broad-based program.None of those transactions took place between late March and May 1, a Fed official said, which would have curbed Mr. Kaplan’s ability to use information about the coming rescue programs to earn a profit.But the trades drew attention for other reasons. Mr. Conti-Brown pointed out that Mr. Kaplan was buying and selling oil company shares just as the Fed was debating what role it should play in regulating climate-related finance. And everything the Fed did in 2020 — like slashing rates to near zero and buying trillions in government-backed debt — affected the stock market, sending equity prices higher.“It’s really bad for the Fed, people are going to seize on it to say that the Fed is self-dealing,” said Sam Bell, a founder of Employ America, a group focused on economic policy. “Here’s a guy who influences monetary policy, and he’s making money for himself in the stock market.”Mr. Perli noted that Mr. Kaplan’s financial activity included trading in a corporate bond exchange-traded fund, which is effectively a bundle of company debt that trades like a stock. The Fed bought shares in that type of fund last year.Other key policymakers, including the New York Fed president, John C. Williams, reported much less financial activity in 2020, based on disclosures published or provided by their reserve banks. Mr. Williams told reporters on a call on Wednesday that he thought transparency measures around trading activity were critical.“If you’re asking should those policies be reviewed or changed, I think that’s a broader question that I don’t have a particular answer for right now,” Mr. Williams said.Washington-based board officials reported some financial activity, but it was more limited. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, reported 41 recorded transactions made by him or on his or his family’s behalf in 2020, but those were typically in index funds and other relatively broad investment strategies. Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, recorded purchases and sales of Union Pacific stock last summer. Those stocks were assets of Mr. Quarles’s wife and he had no involvement in the transactions, a Fed spokesman said.The Fed system is made up of a seven-seat board in Washington and 12 regional reserve banks. Board members — called governors — are politically appointed and answer to Congress. Regional officials — called presidents — are appointed by their boards of directors and confirmed by the Federal Reserve Board, and they do not answer to the public directly. Regional branches are chartered as corporations, rather than set up as government entities.The most noteworthy 2020 transactions happened at the less-accountable regional banks, which could call attention to Fed governance, said Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University and the author of a book on the politics of the Fed.“It highlights the crazy, weird, Byzantine nature of the Fed,” Ms. Binder said. “It’s just almost impossible to keep the rules straight, the lines of accountability straight.”The board and the regional banks abide by generally similar ethics agreements. Employees are prohibited from using nonpublic information for gain. Officials cannot trade in the days around Fed meetings and face 30-day holding periods for many securities. Regional banks have their own ethics officers who regularly consult with ethics officials at the Fed’s Board, and presidents and governors alike disclose their financial activity annually.Even with Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Rosengren’s individual responses, pressure could grow for the Fed to adopt more stringent rules, recognizing the special role the central bank plays in markets. That could include requiring officials to invest in broad indexes. The Fed could also apply stricter limits to how much officials can change their investment portfolios while in office, or expand formal limitations to ban trading in a broader list of Fed-sensitive securities, legal experts and former Fed employees suggested in interviews.Fed-related financial activity has drawn other negative attention recently. Janet L. Yellen, the former central bank chair, faced criticism when financial documents filed as part of her nomination for Treasury secretary showed that she had received more than $7 million in bank and corporate speaking fees in 2019 and 2020, after leaving her top central bank role.The Federal Reserve Act limits governors’ abilities to go straight to bank payrolls if they leave before their terms lapse, but speaking fees from the finance industry are permitted.Defenders of the status quo sometimes argue that the Fed would struggle to attract top talent if it curbed how much current and former officials can participate in markets and the financial industry. They could face big tax bills if they had to turn financial holdings into cash upon starting central bank jobs. Because Fed officials tend to have financial backgrounds, banning financial sector work after they leave government could limit their options.But few if any argue that former officials would command such large speaking fees if they had never held central bank leadership positions. And it is widely accepted that the ability to trade while in office as a Fed president raises issues of perception.“People will ask, fairly or otherwise, about the extent to which his views about the balance sheet are interest rates are influenced by his personal investments in the stock market,” Ms. Binder said of Mr. Kaplan’s trades, speaking before his Thursday announcement. “That is not good for the Fed.” More

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    U.S. Debt Default Could Come in October, Yellen Warns

    WASHINGTON — The United States could default on its debt sometime in October if Congress does not take action to raise or suspend the debt limit, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned on Wednesday.The “extraordinary measures” that the Treasury Department has been employing to finance the government on a temporary basis since Aug. 1 will be exhausted next month, Ms. Yellen said in a letter to lawmakers. She added that the exact timing remained unclear but that time to avert an economic catastrophe was running out.“Once all available measures and cash on hand are fully exhausted, the United States of America would be unable to meet its obligations for the first time in our history,” Ms. Yellen wrote.To delay a default, Treasury has in the last month suspended investments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund and the Government Securities Investment Fund of the Federal Employees Retirement System Thrift Savings Plan.The distribution of pandemic relief payments this year and uncertainty over incoming tax payments this month have made it more challenging than usual to predict when funds will run out. Ms. Yellen said that a default would cause “irreparable harm” to the U.S. economy and to global financial markets and that even coming close to defaulting could be harmful.“We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States,” she wrote.Democratic leaders have been insisting for months that Republicans join them in raising the debt ceiling, saying the government hit its last debt limit because of the spending and tax cutting of the Trump administration, what Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Wednesday called “the Trump credit card.”But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has been just as emphatic that he will keep Senate Republicans from helping Democrats on the issue. Democrats may try to attach the increase to measures such as an emergency spending bill to pay for relief and reconstruction after Hurricane Ida, wildfires and heat waves from the summer — daring senators from Louisiana and Western states to vote no.The showdown has again put the parties into a game of chicken, with a debt default and potential economic crisis as the consequence.Ms. Pelosi, at her weekly news conference on Wednesday, said emphatically that Democrats would not include a statutory increase in the government’s borrowing authority in a budget bill being drafted this month. That bill, under complicated budget rules, could pass without Republican votes in the Senate.Instead, Democratic leaders will dare Senate Republicans to filibuster a bill that does raise the debt ceiling.“We Democrats supported lifting the debt ceiling” during the Trump administration, she said, “because it was the responsible thing to do.” She added, “I would hope that the Republicans would act in a similarly responsible way.”Democrats have several options they are considering. The government will run out of operating funds at the end of the month, so a debt ceiling increase could be attached to a stopgap spending measure — meaning a Republican filibuster would not only jeopardize the government’s full faith and credit, it could shut down the government.Democrats could also attach it to a major infrastructure bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support and is supposed to get a House vote by Sept. 27. More

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    When Will Unemployment End? Biden Urges Some States to Extend Benefits

    President Biden is encouraging states with stubbornly high jobless rates to use federal aid dollars to extend benefits for unemployed workers after they are set to expire in early September, administration officials said on Thursday, in an effort to cushion a potential shock to some local economies as the Delta variant of the coronavirus rattles the country.Enhanced benefits for unemployed workers will run through Sept. 6 under the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill enacted in March. Those benefits include a $300 weekly supplement for traditional benefits paid by states, additional weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed and a special pandemic program meant to help so-called gig-economy workers who do not qualify for normal unemployment benefits. Those benefits are administered by states but paid for by the federal government. The bill also included $350 billion in relief funds for state, local and tribal governments.Mr. Biden still believes it is appropriate for the $300 benefit to expire on schedule, as it was “always intended to be temporary,” the secretaries of the Treasury and labor said in a letter to Democratic committee chairmen in the House and Senate on Thursday. But they also reiterated that the stimulus bill allows states to use their relief funds to prolong other parts of the expanded benefits, like the additional weeks for the long-term unemployed, and they called on states to do so if their economies still need the help.That group could include California, New York and Nevada, where unemployment rates remain well above the national average and governors have not moved to pare back benefits in response to concerns that they may be making it more difficult for businesses to hire.“Even as the economy continues to recover and robust job growth continues, there are some states where it may make sense for unemployed workers to continue receiving additional assistance for a longer period of time, allowing residents of those states more time to find a job in areas where unemployment remains high,” wrote Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, and Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary. “The Delta variant may also pose short-term challenges to local economies and labor markets.”The additional unemployment benefits have helped boost consumer spending in the recovery from recession, even as the labor market remains millions of jobs short of its prepandemic levels. But business owners and Republican lawmakers have blamed the $300 supplement, in particular, for the difficulties that retailers, restaurants and other employers have faced in filling jobs this spring and summer.Two dozen states, mostly led by Republicans, have moved to end at least some of the benefits before their expiration date.In their letter to Congress, the administration officials said the Labor Department was announcing $47 million in new grants meant to help displaced workers connect with good jobs. They also reiterated Mr. Biden’s call for Congress to include a long-term fix for problems with the unemployment system in a large spending bill that Democrats are trying to move as part of their multipart economic agenda. More

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    Janet Yellen Gets a Chance to Shape the Fed, This Time From Outside

    As Jerome H. Powell nears the end of his term as Federal Reserve chair, Ms. Yellen will have a say over whether he should stay on. Many progressive Democrats want him replaced.Janet L. Yellen has dedicated most of her professional life to the Federal Reserve. She served in its highest-ranking roles, including as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, on its Washington-based board and as the central bank’s first female chair. When President Donald J. Trump decided to replace her in that role in 2017, she was sorely disappointed.Now, as Treasury secretary, Ms. Yellen is getting another chance to shape the future of the institution. She will be a critical voice in deciding who ought to lead the central bank in what some see as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake an institution that shepherds America’s economy and helps to regulate its largest banks.Jerome H. Powell’s term as chair, which began in 2018 after Mr. Trump picked him to take over for Ms. Yellen, ends in February. Slots for the vice chair and the Fed’s top bank regulator will also be up for grabs soon, and a position on the Fed’s Board of Governors is already vacant. Assuming officials leave once their leadership terms end, the Biden administration may, in quick succession, be able to appoint four of the Fed’s seven board members, powerful policymakers who have constant votes on monetary decisions and exclusive regulatory authorities.Many progressive Democrats are pushing to oust the moderate Mr. Powell and replace him with a candidate who is focused on tight financial regulation, climate change and digital money — most likely the Fed governor Lael Brainard. Mr. Powell’s supporters see him as a champion for full employment, and would like him to be retained as a sign that competent leadership is rewarded.It’s unclear where Ms. Yellen’s preferences lie, but it’s common knowledge that she was unhappy when Mr. Trump broke a tradition of reappointment in her case.Many who would like to see Mr. Powell replaced play down the role she will have in shaping President Biden’s decision. But Treasury secretaries have traditionally been central to the Fed selection process, helping to advise and guide the president toward a choice that will be welcome on both Wall Street and in the Senate, which has to confirm nominees to the Fed board.Ms. Yellen’s views will carry significant weight in the deliberations, coloring both who is considered and the ultimate outcome. Discussions over the pick are also being held among Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council; Ron Klain, the president’s chief of staff; and Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, according to people familiar with the deliberations. Mr. Biden will have the final word.Conversations over who should lead the institution could stretch into October, as they have in past Fed leadership decisions. But speculation over who will win the top jobs is already rampant.The Treasury Department declined to comment.The argument for replacing Mr. Powell, a Republican who was appointed as a Fed governor by President Barack Obama, has to do with things other than traditional interest rate policy. Democrats typically say he has done a relatively good job when it comes to guiding the economy using monetary tools.Under Mr. Powell’s leadership, the Fed parried Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign to lower rates when the economic backdrop was solid, and it reacted rapidly and effectively to the economic collapse triggered by the pandemic. The Fed is also credited with averting a financial crisis early last year as key markets seized. Mr. Powell’s Fed revamped its entire policy framework last year to focus more concertedly on achieving a strong job market that extends its benefits to as many people as possible.Jerome H. Powell has been Fed chair since 2018; his term ends in February.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesMs. Yellen has repeatedly praised Mr. Powell’s performance.“He’s doing extremely well,” she told The New York Times in early 2020, discussing Mr. Powell’s conduct as he came under attack from the Trump White House.But Mr. Powell has opponents among more progressive groups. He often deferred to the Fed’s vice chair — a Trump appointee — for supervision when it came to regulation, regularly voting for tweaks to bank and financial rules that chipped quietly away at postcrisis financial reforms. He has also been criticized by climate focused groups for being too slow to elevate the Fed’s role in policing environment-related finance. Climate activists plan to protest at the Fed’s annual symposium this year in Jackson, Wyo., and Mr. Powell “will be a key target,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, head of U.S. communications at 350.org, said in an email. The group is one of the protest’s key organizers.Regulation and climate are key reasons some Democrats are lining up behind Ms. Brainard, the Fed governor and another leading candidate. Ms. Brainard, who also has a good relationship with Ms. Yellen, opposed Trump administration efforts to lighten bank oversight by loudly dissenting against a spate of regulatory decisions, often releasing meticulous statements detailing where they went awry.She is seen as a powerful and effective Fed governor, one who played a key role in shaping pandemic response programs. And while they are closely aligned on monetary policy, she has distinguished herself from Mr. Powell by pushing for a bigger role for the Fed on climate issues and a more proactive stance toward developing a digital currency.She also could help to anchor a leadership team that could usher in a fresh era for the Fed, her supporters argue.Andrew Levin, a former Fed economist, is one of several people who are pushing the idea that the White House appoint Ms. Brainard as chair and Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former top Fed and Treasury official, to the central bank’s top regulatory job. Mr. Levin, now a professor of economics at Dartmouth, would also favor nominating as vice chair Lisa Cook, a professor from Michigan State University who has researched racial disparities and labor markets and has worked to improve diversity in economics.That group would be diverse, compared with the Fed’s typically white and male leadership team. The Fed has been led by a woman — Ms. Yellen — for just four of its nearly 108 years. If appointed vice chair, Ms. Cook would be the highest-ranking Black woman in its history.“It’s a package deal that should work together,” Mr. Levin said. “This administration wants to send a message that they care about all of the people who are slipping through the cracks.”Those aren’t the only names floated for key positions. William Spriggs, chief economist at the A.F.L.-C.I.O. (and himself a fan of keeping Mr. Powell in the top job), is also on some lists for the vice chair or a governor.Progressive Democrats are lining up behind Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor.Cliff Owen/Associated PressProgressive groups have been talking to lawmakers, arguing that Mr. Powell should be replaced, and key Democrats are sympathetic to some of their arguments.“My concern is that over and over, he has weakened the regulation here, he has led the Fed to ease up there,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, said on Bloomberg TV this month. “We need someone who understands and uses both the monetary policy tools and the regulatory tools to keep our economy safe.”But whether such objections will kill Mr. Powell’s chances remains to be seen. Powerful Democrats attuned to the issue, such as Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, have not signaled definitively that they would vote against Mr. Powell were he renominated. Even if Mr. Powell is retained, fresh faces in the other key jobs could inject diversity and expertise on issues like climate and financial oversight into the Fed’s top ranks.And another argument is working in Mr. Powell’s favor: tradition.When Mr. Trump replaced Ms. Yellen, he bucked a longstanding practice in which Fed chairs were reappointed if they had done a good job, regardless of their political background. The tradition is in part a nod to the fact that the Fed is meant to be independent of partisan politics.Democrats and their allies were infuriated.The decision was “seemingly rooted in simple-minded partisanship that demanded a Republican president replace a Democratic appointee as Fed chair,” Josh Bivens, research director at the typically liberal Economic Policy Institute, wrote in a statement at the time. “This decision breaks a longstanding norm of not elevating partisanship over competence when picking Fed chairs.”Mr. Bivens, in an email last week, said that the norm “is pretty broken,” but that the decision to replace a Fed chair should still come down to whether the incumbent had done a good job. There’s a strong case for keeping Mr. Powell based on his monetary policymaking at a moment of fierce debate over the Fed’s policy direction, he thinks.Ms. Yellen remains mindful of the tradition. She reacted sadly in 2018 to Mr. Trump’s decision to replace her, saying during a CBS News interview that she had made it clear she would have stayed on and felt a “sense of disappointment.”“It is common for people to be reappointed by presidents of the opposite party,” she said. More

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    Pelosi and Yellen to Discuss Rental Assistance as Eviction Crisis Looms

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday imposed a new, 60-day federal moratorium on evictions in areas of the country ravaged by the Delta variant, a move aimed at protecting hundreds of thousands of renters at risk of being kicked out of their homes during a pandemic.The action was also intended to quell a rebellion among angry Democrats who blamed the White House for allowing a previous eviction ban to expire on Saturday — after the Democratic-controlled House was unable to muster enough votes to extend that moratorium.President Biden told reporters that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would seek to implement a new federal moratorium on evictions in communities across the country hardest hit by the virus.Tom Brenner for The New York TimesPresident Biden has been under intense pressure from activists and allies for the last week to protect people at risk of being driven from their homes for failing to pay their rent during the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. The previous nationwide moratorium on evictions, which went into effect in September, expired on Saturday after the Supreme Court warned that an extension would require congressional action.The end of the rental protections has prompted a flurry of recriminations in Washington and a furious effort by the White House to find a solution that prevents working-class and impoverished Americans from being evicted from their homes on Mr. Biden’s watch as billions in aid allocated by Congress goes untapped.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday announced the new order barring people from being driven out of their homes in many parts of the country, saying that “the evictions of tenants for failure to make rent or housing payments could be detrimental to public health control measures” aimed at slowing Covid-19.The order will expire on Oct. 3, the C.D.C. said, and applies to areas of the country “experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission” of the virus. Mr. Biden, in remarks ahead of the official order, said the moratorium was expected to reach 90 percent of Americans who are renters.“This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where Covid-19 spreads,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said in a statement. “Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”The decision to impose a new and targeted moratorium, rather than extending the previous national ban, is aimed at sidestepping a Supreme Court ruling from late June that seemed to limit the administration’s ability to enact such policies. While the court upheld the C.D.C.’s moratorium, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh issued a brief concurring opinion explaining that he had cast his vote reluctantly and believed the C.D.C. had “exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium.”Mr. Biden conceded on Tuesday that the new approach might be struck down by the courts as executive overreach. But he suggested the move could help buy the administration time as it tried to get states to disburse billions of dollars of aid to help renters meet their obligations to landlords.Congress previously allocated $46.5 billion in rental assistance in two coronavirus relief packages, but only about $3 billion had been delivered to eligible households through June, according to Treasury Department data.“Whether that option will pass constitutional measure with this administration, I can’t tell you. I don’t know,” Mr. Biden said of a new moratorium. “There are a few scholars who say it will and others who say it’s not likely to. But at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, we’ll probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind in rent and don’t have the money.”For days, some of Mr. Biden’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, including some of the most progressive Democrats in Congress, have been publicly and privately assailing his lack of action to help renters, accusing the president and his aides of failing to find a replacement for the eviction moratorium until it was too late.Just days before Saturday’s expiration of the ban, Mr. Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to extend it. But with the House about to leave town for a seven-week vacation and Republicans solidly opposed to an extension, progressive Democrats described the White House call as a cynical attempt to shift blame to lawmakers. The administration, for its part, feared that any unilateral move would open the White House to legal challenges that could ultimately erode Mr. Biden’s presidential powers.The expiration presented the president with a thorny choice: Side with the C.D.C. and his own lawyers, who saw an extension as a dangerous step that could limit executive authority during health crises, or heed the demands of his party’s progressive wing to take immediate action to halt what they saw as a preventable housing crisis.Under intense pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, Mr. Biden’s team opted for an approach that would give them a chance to satisfy both camps, creating a new moratorium, based on a recent rise in infections from the Delta variant, that cited the risks associated with the movement of displaced tenants in areas where the virus is raging.But ultimately it came down to a simpler calculation: Mr. Biden could not ignore the call, led by Black Democrats, to reverse course.“Every single day that we wait, thousands of people are receiving eviction notices, and some of them are being put out on the street,” said Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, who has been sleeping on the steps of the Capitol since the moratorium expired in a bid to pressure her party’s leadership. “People started sending me pictures of dockets, court dockets, that were all evictions. We cannot continue to sit back. We need this done today.”Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, were briefed on Tuesday on the C.D.C.’s plan by Dr. Walensky, the agency’s director, and Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, according to a person familiar with the call. Ms. Pelosi hailed the idea of a new eviction moratorium as a victory for many Americans who were struggling because of the pandemic.“Today is a day of extraordinary relief,” she said in a statement. “Thanks to the leadership of President Biden, the imminent fear of eviction and being put out on the street has been lifted for countless families across America. Help is here!”Yet for two days it was unclear how — or whether — any help would arrive as landlords prepared to turn to housing courts to evict tenants who were behind on their rent.At a White House meeting with Mr. Biden on Friday, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer bluntly informed Mr. Biden they did not have the votes to pass an extension — and pressed him to take whatever action he could using his executive power, according to two Democratic congressional aides briefed on the meeting.On Tuesday, House Democrats summoned Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to explain what the agency was doing to help struggling renters. In a private call between Democrats and Ms. Yellen, the Treasury secretary insisted that her team was using all available tools to get rental assistance money to states and to help governments distribute those funds to landlords and renters.“I thoroughly agree we need to bring every resource to bear,” Ms. Yellen said, according to a person who was on the call.The White House had been scrambling to figure out exactly what its legal options were for continuing the moratorium. On Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Biden had asked the C.D.C. on Sunday to consider extending the moratorium for 30 days, even just to high-risk states, but that the C.D.C. had “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium.”A day later, however, the administration appeared ready to barrel through legal challenges and embrace a solution that did just that.The extension is likely to intensify a legal fight with landlord groups that have argued that the eviction ban has saddled them with debt.The National Apartment Association, which filed a lawsuit last week seeking to recoup lost rent, said the moratorium was jeopardizing the viability of the housing market. The group estimates that the apartment industry is shouldering $26.6 billion in debt as a result of the eviction ban.“The government has intruded into private property and constitutional freedoms, and we are proudly fighting to make owners whole and ensure residents’ debt is wiped from their record,” said Robert Pinnegar, the chief executive of the association.Legal experts said it was likely that the administration would face a new wave of lawsuits if the justification and structure of a new moratorium was similar to the one that had been in place.“The only logic by which this could be justified is a logic that would enable them to be able to suppress virtually any activity of any kind that they can claim might spread contagious disease,” said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University. More