Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Touts Biden’s Economic Initiatives, Meets With Pritzker During Chicago Visit

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at the Economic Club of Chicago on Jan. 25, 2024. (Treasury Department / X)Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at the Economic Club of Chicago on Jan. 25, 2024. (Treasury Department / X)

The release of fresh GDP numbers detailing better-than-expected annualized growth of 2.5% for 2023 — including 3.3% growth for the final quarter of last year — couldn’t have been timed better for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who was in Chicago Thursday to trumpet President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

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“Instead of contracting, the economy has continued to grow,” Yellen said, defying forecasters who predicted a recession, with numbers “reflective of strong and healthy spending and productivity improvements and most likely not creating an inflationary challenge.”

The reports strove to drive home Yellen’s larger intended point.

“The Biden administration has put in place the most extensive set of policies and investments to benefit the middle class and grow the economy that our country has seen in my lifetime,” Yellen said in a speech before the Economic Club of Chicago in which she strove to draw contrasts with Biden’s agenda and that of his likely competitor for the White House, former President Donald Trump.

Following her remarks, Yellen told reporters that it was an “appropriate” focus three years into Biden’s term.

“I think it’s important that Americans understand what the values are, that have driven (Biden’s) initiatives, and what the overall plan is — bringing together both a focus on short-term matters and a longer-term growth strategy, and the way in which it’s directed at the middle class,” Yellen said. “Explaining to the American people what the economic strategy is, to me, is a priority.”

That explanation will also be key to Biden winning reelection, with polls showing a consistent, albeit narrowing, gap between raw economic data and voters’ sentiments about the economy.

Asked about that schism by the Economic Club’s chair, Conagra Brands, Inc. CEO Sean Connolly, Yellen said Americans have been through a lot. The pandemic took a tremendous toll on American lives and livelihoods, people’s ways of living, she said, but noted that high inflation has “come down quickly” such that “I think Americans do believe inflation’s under control.”

During her speech, Yellen said when he took office, Biden “acted decisively” with the goal “to get people back on their feet as soon as possible” after the economic woes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It worked, she said, because the administration knew it couldn’t go “too small,” and so went the opposite, with “historic support” via American Rescue Plan dollars going to businesses, rental and mortgage assistance and a child tax credit.

While Trump’s economic agenda “prioritized tax cuts for corporations, disproportionately benefited top earners, and did not fix the broken international tax system that encourages companies to shift jobs and profits overseas,” Yellen said, Biden “made an ironclad commitment to not raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year,” put more funding toward the Internal Revenue Service so it could “go after wealthy tax cheats” and implemented tax code changes so the most profitable corporations can’t escape paying taxes.

“We seldom think about what the alternative might have been,” Yellen said. “The middle class could have had a far greater struggle.”

Going forward, she said, the Democratic president will continue to center the middle class.

“Our work is far from done,” Yellen said, as “prices remain too high” and for many “life is still harder than it should be.”

Robert Wislow of Parkside Realty said it was “interesting to get a deeper insight into what the administration’s programs are aiming to do, and to understand, firsthand from the person who is implementing these programs, what the direction of the program is.”

Wislow said he believes that for most people, the economy is better.

“And the evidence of that is the consumerism that’s going on,” Wislow said. “So if people are feeling so badly about the economy, why are they spending the funds that they’re spending at record paces?”

Yellen began her day in Chicago with a breakfast meeting with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at Sweet Maple Cafe on the Near West Side.

Asked about how it went, Yellen said “I don’t want to give details of what we talked about,” but that their conversation focused on how the president’s economic initiatives, including the infrastructure law, clean energy incentives and American Rescue Plan, have impacted Illinois.

“Food was great,” she said. “It was a nice, nice conversation about our mutual interests.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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