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Senior Biden Aide Who Quietly Helped Shape Economic Agenda Is Leaving

Bharat Ramamurti
Thought Leader: Bharat Ramamurti
September 12, 2023

Bharat Ramamurti, the last original senior member of President Biden’s National Economic Council, will leave the White House at the end of the month. His departure closes a chapter in Mr. Biden’s tenure that included a flurry of economic legislation directing large sums of federal money toward infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and other initiatives.

Mr. Ramamurti, an N.E.C. deputy, has been a key player in Mr. Biden’s efforts to boost the economy through both legislation and executive action. That included Mr. Biden’s attempts to increase corporate competition — an initiative outlined in an executive order in 2021 — and his plan to forgive a wide swath of student loans, which the Supreme Court struck down.

Mr. Ramamurti was a candidate to lead the N.E.C. when its first director under Mr. Biden, Brian Deese, stepped down in February. The position instead went to a former top Federal Reserve official, Lael Brainard.

In an interview, Ms. Brainard praised Mr. Ramamurti for “outstanding judgment, collegiality, strategic sense, policy chops and communications.”

Before joining Mr. Biden’s transition team after the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Ramamurti was a policy aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and the first member of the Congressional Oversight Commission charged with tracking some of the $2 trillion of economic stimulus approved by President Donald J. Trump amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Deese recalled that Mr. Ramamurti, in developing the ill-fated student debt proposal, was influential and pragmatic in expanding on Mr. Biden’s original promise of $10,000 in loan relief for lower-income and middle-class borrowers.

Mr. Ramamurti was among those pushing for more expanded relief that could help Black students and other students of color with particularly large debt levels. He suggested several different ways to expand forgiveness in a targeted manner, at the request of Mr. Deese and Susan Rice, who was then the head of Mr. Biden’s Domestic Policy Council. The team eventually settled on a plan that offered an additional $10,000 in relief for students who had been eligible for federal Pell Grants, which benefit lower-income families.

“In all of our work on college affordability, he was very conscious of racial equity and distributional impacts,” said Jared Bernstein, the chairman of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers. In the student debt debate, he said, Mr. Ramamurti “brought a level of both policy expertise and emotion — which is a nice way of saying ‘pissed off’ — to those meetings.”

Some of Mr. Ramamurti’s influence on policy was more durable — if less visible. Mr. Bernstein said he had successfully pushed other administration officials to be more aggressive in setting a Labor Department rule that expands the number of salaried workers who automatically qualify for time-and-a-half overtime pay after working 40 hours in a week.

He coordinated the administration’s efforts to broker an agreement in early 2022 between the nation’s telecom giants and leading airlines over the deployment of 5G wireless towers near airports, which could have caused crippling disruptions in air travel.

He also helped lead much of Mr. Biden’s competition agenda, including his efforts to crack down on so-called junk fees charged by banks, airlines and online ticketing agencies. That effort spanned cabinet agencies and several parts of the West Wing, and colleagues repeatedly praised Mr. Ramamurti’s coordination skills.

It was a “major undertaking that could not have happened without Bharat’s ability to run good process and communicate so clearly and distill things down for people, including at all levels of the White House,” said Hannah Garden-Monheit, who now leads Mr. Biden’s competition council.

Mr. Biden has seen significant turnover from his original economic team. Along with Mr. Deese and Ms. Rice, he lost his first C.E.A. chair, Cecilia Rouse, and several senior deputies across the White House. His first labor secretary, Marty Walsh, stepped down to become the head of the National Hockey League players’ union.

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