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Neera Tanden, Biden’s reported choice for federal budget chief, has roots in Bedford

Tanden said she was lucky to benefit from the Boston-suburb’s high quality schools

Neera Tanden, president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, spoke at a conference in 2019.
Neera Tanden, president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress, spoke at a conference in 2019.Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to tap Neera Tanden to serve as his director of the Office of Management and Budget, national media reported on Sunday.

If nominated and approved by the Senate, Tanden would one of America’s top financial policy makers, responsible for writing a federal budget that meets the goals of the new administration.

Tanden worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations and now leads the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. But before she ascended to such lofty positions, Tanden made her mark as the daughter of Indian immigrants who grew up in Bedford, a town northwest of Boston.

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In 2014, in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee, Tanden described Bedford as the “quintessential middle class town.” Her life there helped to shape her views on economic policy, she said.

Tanden recalled that her parents had immigrated from India decades before. Her parents divorced when she was 5, she said. Her father left and her mother, who had never worked outside their home, was left with a tough decision. Should she move back to India or go on welfare to support her two young children?

“In India, we would have been stigmatized, and she knew our life chances would be limited; it was unheard of to get divorced back then,” Tanden said.

Her family received food stamps as well as federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help pay for their monthly rent, she told the Senate. She was lucky to continue her education in the high-quality Bedford public school system, where she was able to purchase lunch at a reduced price.

“I personally feel that if I didn’t have the good public schools of Bedford, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” she told the New York Times in a 2000 interview.

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During her years at Bedford High School, Tanden was active in extracurricular activities such as debate, drama club, science club, and the citizenship committee, according to her high school yearbook.

By the time she graduated in in 1988, Tanden was already dreaming of a career in politics, listing “to become Secretary of State” under her future goals. She selected a quote from Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, to accompany her senior photo: “Power is not a matter of arms alone. Strength comes from the satisfaction and pride of the people.”

Tanden’s mother eventually got a job as a travel agent before becoming a contracts administrator for a defense company, she said. By the time Tanden was 11, her mother was able to buy a home.

She attributed her success, in part, to her mother’s tenacity and commitment to offering her children a better life, she said.

“But I also know I’m where I am today because our social safety net gave my mother the resources she needed to get back on her feet,” she said. “She was lucky to live in a country that says, ‘Just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out.’”

In fact, it was her experiences as a recipient of government resources led to her active career in politics, she told the Times.

“I know it sounds totally corny, but [my mother] really instilled in me a great deal of, y’know, sort of a desire to serve,” she said in the interview. “The Democratic Party, the policies that the Clintons and Hillary believe in, I feel like a living example of someone who benefited.’'

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After attending Bedford schools, Tanden went on to receive a bachelor of science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and a law degree from Yale University, according to her biography on the Center for American Progress site. She began her career as an associate director for domestic policy under former President Bill Clinton, and as senior policy advisor for then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

She later held key roles in Barack Obama and Hillary’s first presidential campaigns before becoming senior advisor for health reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked on provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Tanden now lives with her husband and two children in Washington, D.C., according to her biography.