ATLANTA — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a visit to Georgia on Wednesday touted the bipartisan infrastructure package as vital to fighting “destructive forces” holding back the American labor force, as the White House sought to amplify its economic messaging in a key battleground state.
In her first domestic trip since taking the helm of the Treasury Department, the veteran economist and former Federal Reserve chair was deployed in a less familiar role — salesperson. She appeared alongside Democratic lawmakers as she spoke to local businesses and Latino groups in Atlanta about the importance of the $1.9 trillion aid package that President Joe Biden signed in March — particularly the monthly child tax credit — as well as the benefits of the infrastructure bill under debate in Congress this week.
Yellen was just the latest administration official to visit Atlanta in recent days. Xavier Becerra, who heads Health and Human Services, visited the city on Monday. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was due to arrive on Friday. The repeat visits were a sign of the White House’s focus on what may be the most competitive state in the 2022 midterm elections and one that was pivotal to Democrats taking full control of Washington this year.
“Georgia clearly is on the minds of the Biden administration,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said alongside Yellen at an event at Invest Atlanta, an economic development agency.
The Treasury chief’s trip came as Democrats in competitive districts sounded the alarm that the party’s messaging around the economy was weak. GDP growth has been strong enough to bring the country out of the hole left by the pandemic, but Republicans have been hammering the Biden administration for price increases in key categories like food and cars. Democrats have tried to combat the narrative by pointing to wins, like wage gains among poorer Americans.
In her remarks Wednesday, Yellen tried to make the case that inflation would dissipate and that not spending more to bolster the economy was a bigger risk to Americans in the long term.
The Senate this week is considering a bipartisan bill that includes $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. Democrats plan to follow the legislation with a $3.5 trillion plan that’s expected to include funding for sweeping social programs.
“My largest concern is not, ‘What are the risks if we make these big investments?’” Yellen said. “It is, ‘What is the cost if we don’t?’”
Officials at the Fed have also said they expect rapid price increases to eventually slow going into next year, though they’re monitoring inflation closely. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic, in the conversation as a potential replacement for Fed Chair Jerome Powell, was in the audience for Yellen’s remarks.
Yellen pointed to negative economic trends that the administration was fighting: declining participation in the workforce, income gains that flow disproportionately to the wealthy, racial inequality and climate change.
“These destructive forces … are different economic challenges in some ways than the ones that came along with the pandemic,” she said. “They’re longer term, slower moving. But they share something in common: Both are subject to our policy choices.”
Yellen described the infrastructure bill as “the largest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower built the interstate,” touting that it would connect every household to high-speed internet and be a “down payment in our fight against climate change.”
In a nod to Biden’s proposed $1.8 trillion Families Plan, she also underscored the need to do more to expand child care access and affordable housing.
“Taken together, [credit rating agency] Moody’s estimates that these investments will significantly increase real GDP over the next decade, boost labor force participation and reduce the unemployment rate,” Yellen said.
In the afternoon, Yellen stood alongside three Georgia congresswomen — Reps. Nikema Williams, Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — as well as the CEO of the Latin American Association in Atlanta to highlight the enhanced child tax care credit. Under the economic aid legislation Biden signed in March, the credit’s maximum value was temporarily increased to $3,000 per kid and $3,600 for children under 6.
McBath, who represents the district that elected former Republican Reps. Newt Gingrich and Tom Price, called the credit “very transformative legislation.”
“There’s over 121,000 children in my district that will receive the benefit of this extended child care tax credit,” she said. “The average American family in my district in Georgia six is going to get about $2,600. That means a lot to them.”