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Biden HUD, economist nominees pledge to fight inequality, spar with Republicans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden’s nominees for a key White House economic post and to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development called on Thursday for more action to reduce inequities in the U.S. economy, drawing some ire from some Senate Republicans.

FILE PHOTO: Cecilia Rouse, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaks as President-elect Biden announces nominees and appointees to serve on his economic policy team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Marcia Fudge, the Ohio congresswoman nominated to lead HUD, told a Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearing that sometimes people needed to be treated differently - not equally - based on race, economics, education, a history of discrimination or other factors.

“To treat us all the same, is not the same. Equity means making the playing field level,” Fudge said in an exchange with Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who has criticized Biden’s desire to dismantle racial inequities. “The same is not always fair.”

Fudge spent a substantial amount of time in the hearing deflecting Republican questions about her ability to work with them after incendiary remarks here she made about them last year during the debate over then-President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

At the time, Fudge had said those bent on choosing Ginsburg’s successor - effectively all Republicans - “have no decency. They have no honor, They have no integrity,” and are “a disgrace to this nation.”

Asked if she still believed those words, Fudge said that she would be able to work across the aisle.

“Sometimes I am a little passionate about things. Is my tone pitch-perfect all the time? It is not,” Fudge said. “But I do know this: that I have the ability and the capacity to work with Republicans, and I intend to do just that, and that is my commitment to you.”

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Asked about remarks last year in which she said she did not believe Republicans care about people of color, Fudge said that “some” do but that she was willing to hear more from them about the subject.

Fudge, 68, called in the hearing for more housing aid to help tens of millions of people who are behind on rent and 3 million homeowners currently in forbearance or delinquent on the mortgages, adding that the $25 billion approved late last year was not enough.

“My first priority as secretary would be to alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge,” Fudge said.

WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER

Biden’s nominee to head the White House Council of Economic advisers, Cecilia Rouse, said more spending was needed to support the U.S. economy and keep it growing to avoid a “downward spiral” in the country’s ability to service its debt.

She also said the coronavirus pandemic was an opportunity to rebuild and create an economy that has fewer inequalities.

“Far too many have slipped through our frayed safety net into hardship and hopelessness,” Rouse said. “And structural inequities that have always existed within our economy have not just been exposed, but exacerbated, their impact more devastating than ever before.”

As head of Biden’s top economic advisory body, she said she would focus less on “average” outcomes, which have created an economy that has become more unequal.

“That analysis fails to capture the experience of many people who are left behind, particularly people of color. Therefore, one of my priorities as chair will be to try to understand how policies will impact all those in our country as we strive to ensure the economy works for everyone.”

Rouse, 57, would be the first Black economist to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. She served on the council in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011, the worst years of the previous economic crisis, and also served in a Clinton White House economic policy post.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler

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