MILWAUKEE — Vice President Kamala Harris pitched the administration’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package as an opportunity to invest in America and realize its potential.
Addressing a roundtable at UW-Milwaukee this afternoon, Harris said the federal government’s investment in innovation, research and development has declined as a percentage of GDP over the past 20 years.
“It is about what we must and can do to pursue innovation for the sake of making things better for American families, making things easier for American families and creating jobs,” Harris told the roundtable.
The $2 trillion package includes $180 billion for research and development, including $40 billion to upgrade research infrastructure and $35 billion to position the U.S. as a leader on climate research, according to the White House.
Prior to the roundtable, Harris visited a clean energy lab at the university, where she was given an overview of a project to significantly reduce the time it takes to recharge an electric vehicle. The research is part of a partnership with Volta, which is building an electric vehicle charging network.
During the roundtable, Harris said a silver lining of the pandemic was it underscored the importance of broadband for everything from health care access to small business. She also pushed back on those who have questioned the infrastructure plan’s price tag and what’s been included in the package.
“Infrastructure is basically ‘How are you going to get where you need to go?’” Harris said. “That’s how I define it.”
Republicans dismissed Harris’ visit to Wisconsin as a distraction from what they said was a crisis at the southern border.
State GOP Chair Andrew Hitt slammed Harris for visiting Milwaukee instead of addressing growing issues at the southern border, which he says is “spiraling out of control.” Meanwhile, GOP state Reps. Tyler August, of Lake Geneva, and Jim Steineke, of Kaukauna, told reporters at a Capitol news conference of their visit to the border last week after receiving an invite from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.
They called on Gov. Tony Evers to send National Guard troops to the U.S. southern border to address the “crisis” of an influx of migrants entering the country.
They also sent a letter to Harris, calling on the VP to “do your job” as the president’s border czar and to meet with border officials, as they had, instead of visiting Milwaukee.
They said some officials they met with likened the number of migrants coming to America as an “invasion” and called on the feds and the guv to take action.
“It’s become much more likely that she will walk on Mars before she will walk on the southern border with Mexico,” August said.
Harris was greeted upon her arrival in Milwaukee by Gov. Tony Evers, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore and others. Baldwin, D-Madison, and Moore, D-Milwaukee, then joined Harris for the roundtable discussion.
Other Dems at the round table included U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and AG Josh Kaul.
Moore said climate change-related issues will be one of the biggest areas for infrastructure development in the future. She also argued the definition of infrastructure needs to be expanded and products such as electric cars should be included.
Before departing Milwaukee, Harris again touted broadband, saying there were issues around availability in rural America and affordability in rural and urban areas that need to be addressed. She also expressed optimism about working with Republicans on the package, though she declined to say whether the administration’s package of $2 trillion was a hard number.
Some Senate Republicans have proposed a package of less than $600 billion, while GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his caucus won’t consider repealing some tax cuts approved in 2017 as a way of paying for the spending.
“We are very sincere in our desire and our willingness to have these conversations and work in a bipartisan way,” Harris said. “Frankly, it should be a nonpartisan way to address one of the basic issues affecting the productivity of our country, which is infrastructure.”