February 3, 2023

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Persistent Inflation Puts Yellen in the Spotlight

2 min read

WASHINGTON — At her confirmation hearing in early 2021, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers that it was time to “act big” on a pandemic relief package, playing down concerns about deficits at a time of perpetually low interest rates and warning that inaction could mean widespread economic “scarring.”

A year and a half later, prices are soaring and interest rates are marching higher. As a result, Ms. Yellen’s role in crafting and selling the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed in March of last year, is being parsed amid an intensifying blame game to determine who is responsible for the highest rates of inflation in 40 years. After months of pinning rising prices on temporary supply chain problems that would dissipate, Ms. Yellen acknowledged last week that she had gotten it “wrong,” putting the Biden administration on the defensive and thrusting herself into the middle of a political storm.

“I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take,” Ms. Yellen said in an interview with CNN, adding that the economy had faced unanticipated “shocks” that boosted food and energy prices.

Republican lawmakers, who have spent months blaming President Biden and Democrats for rising prices, gleefully seized upon the admission as evidence that the administration had mismanaged the economy and should not be trusted to remain in political control.

The Treasury Department has scrambled to clarify Ms. Yellen’s remarks, saying her acknowledgment that she misread inflation simply meant that she could not have foreseen developments such as the war in Ukraine, new variants of the coronavirus or lockdowns in China. After a book excerpt suggested Ms. Yellen favored a stimulus package smaller than the $1.9 trillion that Congress approved last year, the Treasury released a statement denying that she had urged more spending restraint.

At this tenuous moment in her tenure, Ms. Yellen is expected to face tough questions on…

Alan Rappeport

2022-06-07 08:54:44

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