Government Lending

A who’s who of Biden economic advisors

Three are Obama administration alums, one was Hillary Clinton’s chief economist

The group of people advising former Vice President Joe Biden on the economy is dominated by people who worked in the Obama administration, according to Beacon Policy Advisors.

Biden has surrounded himself with economic advisers that offer viewpoints ranging from progressive to more middle-of-the-road, Beacon said in a report to clients.

Biden will “continue rolling out more specific economic policies as the election comes closer,” the report said. “In particular, there could be increasing detail if the Biden campaign believes it can flip the script on President Trump and be perceived as better able to handle the economy. Otherwise, Biden will likely continue to be relatively vague to maintain the election as a referendum on Trump.”

Economic advisors cited in the report include:

Jeffrey Zients: In the Obama administration, Zients was director of the National Economic Council, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and an economic advisor to Obama. He played a “crucial role” in fixing the early-day website problems with when the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, went live, the Beacon report said. In the Obama White House, he played a key role as the negotiator with Congress on tax and budget agreements. At the time, he proposed lowering the corporate tax rate from the then 35% to something in the high 20s, which is where Biden would look to increase it to after the Republican’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 lowered it to 21%, Beacon said.

Jared Bernstein: Bernstein previously served as chief economist and economic adviser to Biden, as well as being the executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class and a member of President Barack Obama’s economic team from 2009 to 2011. After leaving the White House, he became a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that analyzes the impact of federal and state government budget policies.

In a Vox article last year, Bernstein outlined four assumptions he said have limited economic policy: A mistaken estimation of the natural rate of unemployment; the view that globalization benefits everyone; the theory that deep budget deficits will limit investment; and that a higher minimum wage will only hurt workers.

“Given Bernstein’s close history with Biden, he is someone who we anticipate will have a major influence on the administration’s economic policies,” the Beacon report said. “Since he is also a PhD economist, Bernstein could also make the move from the White House to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and would be a relatively uncontroversial choice for that role, compared to other economic advisors.”

Heather Boushey: If Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election, Boushey would have served as the chief economist of her transition team. Now, she is one of Biden’s key advisors on the economy, according to the Beacon report. Boushey is CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a spinoff from the Center for American Progress that focuses on policies promoting broad-based economic growth – in other words, an economy that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy. Boushey testified to Congress in July in front of the Joint Economic Committee on the Coronavirus Recession advocating for COVID-19 response policies including an extension of the $600 a week beefed-up unemployment benefits, federal aid to state and local governments struggling with the costs of responding to the pandemic, rental assistance, direct payments to low- and middle-income families, small business aid, funding for safe elections, and hazard pay for essential workers that would increase their salaries during the health crisis.

“Boushey is best known for her push to reduce inequality, and her research highlighting how inequality limits economic growth across the economy,” the Beacon report said.

Ben Harris: Harris was Biden’s chief economist and chief economic advisor from 2014 through the January 2017 end of the Obama administration. Harris’ main interests are tax and budgetary issues as well as Social Security. If the Biden administration pursues any reforms or expansions of the Social Security program, including a transfer to ensure the trust fund does not run out, Harris will likely be the administration’s lead, the Beacon report said. Harris “has been an advocate for increased stimulus from Congress, seeing the last stimulus as good though some of it going to companies that were not in need of the money they received,” the report said.

Felicia Wong: Wong is the president of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive economic think tank that seeks to carry forward the values of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who steered the U.S. out of the Great Depression, and his wife, Eleanor. Earlier this year, Wong criticized the Heroes Act, the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House of Representatives at the end of May, for not going far enough.

“Wong will certainly be one of the more progressive voices advising Biden, but her ideas will be taken seriously and some may be adopted in a modified form as a compromise towards the progressive wing of the party,” the Beacon report said.

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