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Yellen cites optimism in economic speech at Ford EV plant

Treasury secretary says inflation is a priority as economy remains a drag on Biden’s ratings

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen speaks about the economy at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, which produces the F-150 Lightning electric truck, in Dearborn, Mich., on Thursday.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen speaks about the economy at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, which produces the F-150 Lightning electric truck, in Dearborn, Mich., on Thursday. (Sarah Rice/Getty Images)

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen was on a Ford factory floor in Michigan on Thursday, making the case for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda and highlighting new investments in a host of industries, including electric vehicles.

The setting for the speech, Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, is the home assembly facility of the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

Yellen said in closing that she was “more optimistic about the course of our economy than I have been for quite a while.” That’s a message that does not yet appear to be resonating with voters, however. An August Gallup poll asking how Biden was handling nearly a dozen issues, from abortion policy to Ukraine, found him getting his lowest marks for the economy, even as his overall job approval rating increased.

A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released just ahead of Yellen’s speech Thursday found that inflation remained the top issue for registered voters surveyed, but it was identified by 30 percent of respondents, down from 37 percent in a July poll. The issue in that survey seeing a jump since earlier this year is abortion, after the Supreme Court overturned the precedent of Roe v. Wade and a number of states imposed new restrictions and prohibitions.

Yellen, as Biden and other senior administration officials have, highlighted the recent and ongoing decline in retail gasoline prices, citing the president’s move to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as one factor bringing down costs.

“The causes of inflation are largely global. But the pain of inflation is personal,” Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair, said Thursday. “This administration’s top priority is to combat inflation, even as we know the Federal Reserve has the primary role to play in restoring price stability.”

Yellen touted numerous provisions of the Biden competitiveness, infrastructure, health and climate agenda that have become law, including new investments in research and development and efforts to advance the “closing of the digital divide” through expanded access to high-speed internet.

“Americans know the unsettling feeling of seeing empty new-car lots — or volatile gas prices due to supply shocks beyond our control. Since the private sector doesn’t always optimize their supply chain to consider external risks, government has a critical role to play,” Yellen said. “We’ve become too vulnerable to countries like China using their market advantages in certain technologies or natural resources to exercise leverage against other countries for their own benefit.”

Biden is heading to Licking County, Ohio, on Friday for the groundbreaking of a new $20 billion Intel semiconductor plant.

“The facility will contain at least two ‘fabs,’ which will be built by union labor, creating over 7,000 construction jobs and 3,000 full-time jobs producing leading-edge chips,” a senior White House official said, using shorthand for a chip fabrication facility. “Intel committed this funding in anticipation of the passage of the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which will provide investment and R&D to the semiconductor industry.”

While the death of Queen Elizabeth II could lead to a change of plans, Biden has been scheduled to be back in Michigan on Sept. 14 to attend the Detroit Auto Show, a visit that will likely focus on electric vehicles.

“President Biden’s economic plan has fueled an electric vehicle manufacturing boom in America, and you can expect him to talk about that and more in Detroit. Under President Biden, the private sector has invested over $100 billion to make more electric cars and their parts in America, create jobs for autoworkers and strengthen our domestic supply chains,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “And just weeks after President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, major companies have already announced billions of additional dollars in new investments to boost American clean energy manufacturing and create good-paying jobs.”

There have been concerns that many electric vehicles will not qualify for tax credits of up to $7,500 that are designed to promote purchases of EVs because of requirements for components to be made in the United States. Jean-Pierre said Thursday that making sure the American people see the “direct effect” of that portion of the reconciliation law “is a priority for us,” citing the recent announcement of the appointment of John Podesta as a senior adviser to the president overseeing implementation of clean energy programs.

Yellen, who referenced the ongoing drought conditions in the Southwest as an example of the effects of climate change, also highlighted energy and environment-related provisions in several of the laws passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden.

“As part of our plan, the bipartisan infrastructure law allocates around $50 billion toward climate resilience and weatherization,” Yellen said. “It will protect farmers, homeowners and communities against the increasing number and scale of droughts, heat waves and floods. Given the existential threat posed by climate change, it is imperative that we address it,” she said.

Yellen called it “the largest investment in fighting climate change in our country’s history.”

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