President-elect has tapped Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, setting her up to possibly take on one of the most daunting tasks in Washington in the coming years.
Tanden worked in the Obama administration as senior adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, and more recently ran the Center for American Progress. She would be in the middle of a central question for the Biden administration over the next four years: how much and for how long the federal government should spend to combat the coronavirus recession.
The government is already projected to face record-breaking deficits that could reach 130% of GDP by 2030.
Tanden, through writings and multiple appearances on Yahoo Finance, has shared her views on the budget question.
This is ‘not the time for policymakers to worry about raising deficits’
Tanden is likely to face a confirmation fight in the Senate but if she makes it through she’ll likely push hard for even more deficit spending.
She co-authored a recent op-ed with a clear message: “Deficit and Debt Shouldn’t Factor Into Coronavirus Recession Response.” The commentary featured four authors including Tanden and Heather Boushey, who is also set to join Biden’s economic team.
“Given the magnitude of the crisis, now is not the time for policymakers to worry about raising deficits and debt,” they wrote. Delineating risks of the pandemic, Tanden and Boushey said “deficits and debt pose no comparable risk.” Financial markets didn’t seem to be punishing deficit spending anyway, they argued.
Tanden underlined the point in a Yahoo Finance appearance in August: “We have a demand problem in the economy right now because of the coronavirus, and we really need to surge demand.”
Republicans are set to again become focused on the debt after four years of big spending under President Trump. They are unlikely to find an ally in Tanden. In 2018 she pushed back on a Republican-led budget resolution saying in a statement, “can we finally stop pretending that Senate Republican leaders care about the deficit?”
The rule seems to be deficits only matter for Democratic presidents. And that rule needs to die now. We should not have to clean up their mess. https://t.co/PZ9Ra7TGQ0
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) December 2, 2017
Biden himself indicated throughout the campaign that he will increase the deficit at least early on in his administration.
‘We believe in ensuring that we have fiscal sanity’
Some of the immediate response to Tanden’s pick among some Democrats has been relief that the president-elect didn’t pick more of a budget hawk. A progressive magazine recently called Bruce Reed – another contender for the job – “Biden’s Mr. Austerity” (and it wasn’t meant as a complement).
The question – if Tanden is confirmed – may come in 2022 or later as to whether she becomes a voice pushing towards a more balanced budget. The deficit ballooned in 2009 during the recession and then decreased over the remainder of President Obama’s term.
Over the years, Tanden has discussed deficits as at least a factor her party should consider. She has also tangled with the supporters of figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders and has pushed positions that fall in a more moderate Democratic vein.
The Center for American Progress’s health care plan – which she helped develop – is less far-reaching than plans pushed by Sanders and others.
I think deficits are an over concern of both policy makers and voters but voters actually care about it and demonstrate that concern at town halls all the time.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) February 19, 2019
One reason? "Our version is much less expensive than a single-payer system,” she said at Yahoo Finance’s 2018 All Markets Summit. “Obviously we believe in ensuring that we have fiscal sanity so we're thinking through how we do that.”
In another Yahoo Finance interview in May 2019, she said the plan was “ultimately most focused on ensuring everyone's covered but lowering costs,” adding, “I think that's where the debate will be" after the 2020 election.
‘We should measure our budget priorities against a simple test’
The OMB describes itself as “overseeing the implementation of [the President’s] vision across the Executive Branch.” And Tanden has spoken of how the budget can be used to make social change happen.
In 2014, during the Obama administration, she testified before the Senate Budget Committee and said, “we should measure our budget priorities against a simple test: Are we expanding opportunity for all Americans?”
“The budget choices we’ve made over the past three years are hurting people and hindering economic growth,” Tanden said in her testimony.
In a tweet hailing her selection, Jason Furman said Tanden “will lead a powerful OMB that is oriented around advancing the President's most important goals, including tackling climate change, reducing inequality, and fostering growth.” The President of Third Way, a moderate Democratic group, added to the praise, calling her “a battle-tested policy expert.”
The reception from many Republicans was much less warm. A former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called her a “sacrifice to the confirmation gods.”
In her May 2019 Yahoo Finance interview Tanden said her approach when looking at issues from a “maybe 30,000-foot level” is that “the policies of the Obama administration that had been the most resilient, or faced the most opposition when undermined, are really the things that actually affect the people.”
"How this economy works and how it can work and should work for everyone is going to be a central question for a lot of people,” she told Yahoo Finance last year.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.