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Fed’s Brainard considered for the White House National Economic Council. What does the NEC director do?

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 1/25/2023 Robert Schroeder
© Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, has emerged as a contender to head the White House National Economic Council, reports said Wednesday.

A Washington Post report said that President Joe Biden is close to naming the next director of the NEC — the top economic position in the White House — and that Brainard is a top name. The Post cited three people familiar with the deliberations. The Wall Street Journal similarly reported that Biden is considering Brainard, and both outlets said no final decision has been made, as the president is considering multiple candidates.

Since its creation in 1993, the NEC has had several high-profile directors whose names are instantly familiar to close observers of markets and the economy: Robert Rubin, who would later serve as President Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary, was the council’s first director. Others include Larry Summers, under President Barack Obama; Lawrence Lindsey, under President George W. Bush; and Gary Cohn, under President Donald Trump.

If selected, the 61-year-old Brainard would take the position after current NEC director Brian Deese leaves the White House, the Post reported. Deese is expected to leave soon but hasn’t set an official departure date.

Part of the Executive Office of the President, the NEC advises presidents on U.S. and global economic policy. The director serves as a kind of gatekeeper, bringing together all economic-policy decisions facing an administration. The Biden White House describes the job as working with various department and agency heads within the administration, and with a staff of policy experts in areas like financial regulation and infrastructure

Brainard, to be sure, already has among the highest-profile jobs in the world of U.S. economics, as the Fed’s No. 2 official. Backed by progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and known as one of the Fed’s most-dovish monetary policy members, she has nonetheless talked tough about the need to keep interest rates high as the U.S. battles persistent inflation.

Now read: Fed’s Brainard: Interest rate policy will have to be restrictive ‘for some time’ even with recent moderation of inflation

Chris Low, chief economist of FHN Financial, said in a note Wednesday that the NEC job would mean for Brainard a big White House role on issues close to her heart.

“Brainard is Vice Chair of the Fed, which is a more influential role, but NEC head would give her some ability to shape climate policy and regulation, two issues she is passionate about,” Low wrote.  

From the archives (March 2021): Fed’s pursuit of climate-change disclosure is ‘imperfect’ but developing: Brainard

If Brainard were to get the position, “this would certainly raise the profile of the NEC director,” said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst for Raymond James, who also said the job could serve as a “precursor” for Brainard being tapped to lead either the Treasury Department or the Fed.

As the Post report noted, Biden’s economic team will face questions including how to implement the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains billions of dollars in clean energy investments.

Biden is also reportedly considering Wally Adeyemo, the deputy treasury secretary; Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Biden; Sylvia Matthews Burwell, the former secretary of Health and Human Services; and others.

Biden and congressional Republicans are currently locked in a standoff over raising the U.S. debt limit, a battle that could have drastic effects on the U.S. economy if not defused.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier this month reportedly told Biden that she will remain in her job for the next two years as the White House faces challenges including the borrowing limit.

Asked about a possible appointment of Brainard to the NEC, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday she had no personnel announcements to make.


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