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Yellen Confirmed, While Key Senator Announces Retirement

On Monday the Senate confirmed one of President Biden’s top economic advisors, and a key Republican senator who has been a champion of retirement policy announced his intent to retire.   

Janet Yellen was approved by the Senate in an 84-15 vote, becoming the first woman to lead the department in its 231-year history. She also is the first person to have served as Treasury Secretary, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and Chair of the Federal Reserve.

Yellen served as Federal Reserve Chair from 2014 to 2018, and the body’s Vice Chair from 2010 to 2014, following an earlier term on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. 

During her Jan. 19 confirmation hearing and in follow-up written answers submitted after the hearing, she offered support for efforts to help Americans save more for retirement. Responding to a question by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) about increasing retirement security options for workers in the country, Yellen said she believes retirement preparedness is a huge problem, with the pandemic only making it worse, and that she “looks forward” to working with Congress to address the issue. 

Responding to a similar written question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has been a long-serving chairman of the committee, Yellen gave a similar response, saying that “I look forward to working with you to find ways to improve the retirement savings system.” She further noted that, during the campaign, Biden proposed to give small businesses a tax break for starting a retirement plan and giving workers the chance to save at work. 

“In addition, under the President’s plan, almost all workers without a pension or 401(k)-type plan will have access to an ‘automatic 401(k),’ which would provide the opportunity to easily save for retirement at work—putting millions of middle-class families on the path to a secure retirement,” Yellen wrote in her response to Grassley.  

Yellen also noted that she strongly supports additional stimulus efforts to address the economic fallout resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that while she does not currently support tax increases while the country is still recovering from the pandemic, she believes that future tax increases may be necessary.  

Portman to Retire

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who has been a champion of retirement security legislation for more than two decades, announced Jan. 25 that he will not seek another term in the Senate when his current term expires in 2022. “Today, I am announcing that I have made a decision not to run again in 2022,” Portman stated, adding that, “This doesn’t mean I’m leaving now—I still have two more years in my term and I intend to use that time to get a lot done.”

Portman cited increasing polarization in Washington as one of the reasons for his decision. “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades,” he stated. 

Portman is a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee. He introduced the Retirement Security and Savings Act in the last Congress with Sen. Cardin, who he has teamed up with on numerous pieces of retirement-policy based legislation. That bill, which includes more than 50 provisions designed to strengthen Americans’ retirement security, is expected to be part of a major push in Congress this year to enact retirement security legislation. 

Also on Monday, a report by Bloomberg suggested that President Biden intends to nominate Julie Su as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Labor Department. Su currently serves as Secretary for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. She had been cited as a top prospect to be Labor Secretary, but Biden instead picked Boston mayor Marty Walsh, who is awaiting his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.