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Fmr. Obama Deputy Sec. of Labor on Biden admin: 'Infrastructure is something that could possibly get done'

Chris Lu, Former Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Obama, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers and Adam Shapiro to discuss what he's expecting from the Biden administration.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: And on that point, I want to bring in Chris Lu now. He's the former Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Obama. And Chris, what we were just talking about, I'm hoping that you can pick up on. Because Biden's economic agenda is pretty ambitious, given the struggling nature of the economy right now, and of the labor market, to some degree.

I'm wondering how difficult you think this task is going to be going forward, getting consensus among Republicans and Democrats, at least on this economic piece, as we've seen Republicans pretty reluctant to support the economy through deficit spending, spending nine months to just pass the last stimulus package. How ambitious do you think it is to try to get another $2 trillion package through?

CHRIS LU: Well, I do think it is a challenge. But I think it's important to understand first that the task at hand is to get the virus under control. Because unless this pandemic goes away, we can never truly stabilize the economy. So what we're really talking about right now is continuing to provide an economic lifeline to workers and businesses and state governments until things can get back to normal.

So, the package that was signed in December will only go until about March or so in terms of unemployment benefits. And I think even under the best circumstances in terms of vaccinations, we don't anticipate the country fully reopening at that point. So I think that you will get another round of economic relief in the way of unemployment benefits, perhaps another stimulus payment, money to states to get the vaccine stored and distributed.

Beyond that, I think it's hard. This is a president who has promised to build back better. Not just to restore the economy to where it was before the pandemic, but really to deal with some of the structural issues of income inequality. And to do that, it's going to require money. And as you've pointed out, Republicans now seem to be back on deficit reduction again.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So, how would you advise the administration, one, to push through their stimulus plan, but also an infrastructure plan? We've waited more than the last administration for infrastructure, two years and counting. And how do you get that through when, as you just pointed out, Republicans have discovered that, eventually, it has to be paid for when, in the past, they didn't seem to care, at least the last four years?

CHRIS LU: You know, ironically, I think infrastructure is something that could possibly get done. As we all know, infrastructure week has been a little bit of a running joke over the past four years. And the past administration, the Trump administration, never really put a viable proposal on the table.

Let me tell you as somebody who spent 12 years on Capitol Hill, members of both sides of the aisle like to spend money on roads and bridges because that creates good paying jobs. And to pick up on one of the points that Senator Daschle just said, if you bring back earmarks, that gives everyone a little skin in the game to try to get this done.

But make no mistake. It's going to be expensive. And it's going to require Republicans acknowledging that in a period of time like this, deficit spending is important. That if we want to get this economy back to its full strength, the answer right now is not to go back to deficit reduction.

KRISTIN MYERS: Are you similarly as optimistic in terms of moves to address racial wealth inequity? It's one of those lofty goals that the president has said that he wants to tackle. But we've heard president after president say that they want to tackle this problem. And it doesn't seem as if too much progress has been made in this area. What policy moves do you think can be made on this front?

CHRIS LU: You're 100% right. Whether the economy is good or the economy is bad, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is always about twice as high as it is for white Americans. There's always, in terms of labor force participation, far more whites in the labor force. Far too many Blacks have simply dropped out. So this is not just an easy thing you can solve with a across the board jobs program. It's going to require healthcare. It's going to require education.

And really, what is encouraging about what President Biden has talked about is trying to address this issue of racial equity. And it's been reported that one of his first executive orders that he's going to sign is to task all federal agencies with examining their programs to see what more can be done. Because this is not as simple as just throwing money at a problem. It's going to require the entire weight of every single federal agency to examine every single thing that they do to see how you can start to address some of those systemic inequities.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Chris Lu is former Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Obama. Thank you for being here during our inauguration coverage.