December 4, 2023

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during the daily press conference on May 7, 2021 in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike for skipping a statutory appearance on the House Small Business Committee.

According to the $ 900 billion Covid-19 bill passed in December, Yellen and Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman are required to testify before both chambers of small business committees to oversee aid disbursement.

House Small Business Committee Chairperson Rep. Nydia Velazquez, DN.Y., announced on Wednesday that Yellen was absent.

“Unfortunately, Treasury Secretary Yellen refused to appear before us in complete disregard for the law, which obliges her to do so,” said Velazquez. “While you and your team may believe your role in PPP and other small business Covid aid programs is waning as we near economic rebirth, you are profoundly mistaken.”

The finance department checked with their lawyer ahead of Wednesday’s hearing to see if Yellen would have to attend himself, a person familiar with the matter told CNBC.

Velazquez’s complaint was upheld by Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri.

“While I am glad we will have a conversation with the small business administrator, Guzman, I am deeply disappointed and concerned that Secretary Yellen is not with us today as the Treasury Secretary is required by law,” he said in prepared remarks.

Guzman appeared before the House Committee on Wednesday.

Velazquez and other lawmakers had hoped to challenge Yellen as the Treasury Department played an important role in launching the nearly $ 1 trillion paycheck protection program more directly managed by the SBA. Their non-attendance is also in contrast to the appearances of former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the panel during President Donald Trump’s tenure.

When asked why Yellen would not appear before the House Committee, CNBC’s Treasury Department offered the following statement: “Secretary Yellen looks forward to continued solid engagement in Congress and will testify several times over the next month, including tomorrow. We will continue to do so. ” work with Congress to coordinate the planning of as many hearings as possible. “

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It is striking that Yellen – a long-time official who is highly valued by both parties as a former chairman of the Federal Reserve – would bypass a legal obligation. The bipartisan rant for their absence is also noteworthy given the Biden administration’s avowed efforts to work closely together and cultivate relationships with all members of Capitol Hill.

A person familiar with the tension between Yellen and the House Small Business Committee said lawmakers had initially accepted the Treasury Department’s offer to replace Deputy Secretary Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, the committee had accepted however, later reversed itself.

A second person speaking to CNBC countered, saying that while the Treasury Department had suggested Adeyemo as an alternative, it was never confirmed by the committee.

This may be due to the text of the December 2020 draft Covid-19 bill, which explicitly stipulates that both the finance minister and the SBA administrator must testify to the House and Senate no later than 120 days after the law comes into effect.

Yellen is expected to appear before the Financial Services and State of House subcommittee on Thursday.