Vice President Kamala Harris tours clean energy laboratories with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during a visit to promote President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan, in Milwaukee, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Vice President Kamala Harris tours clean energy laboratories with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during a visit to promote President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan, in Milwaukee, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Tucked in Biden’s proposal: Billions of dollars for R&D done in Wisconsin labs and elsewhere to keep the US competitive amid a changing landscape.

Vice President Kamala Harris pitched President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, with a heavy emphasis on research and development to spur new jobs inside and outside the laboratories, during a Tuesday afternoon visit to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which focuses on massive infrastructure investments, would put $180 billion into research, a provision of the plan that has flown under the radar amid debates over price and the definition of “infrastructure.” 

But the money the plan would put toward research and development—in addition to more than $300 billion for electric vehicle development, K-12 schooling, and resilience against climate change—is an investment Harris said is key to keeping America’s position as a world leader in the economy.

“Our universities, like the University of Wisconsin, have historically played such an important and big role in what we have done to create and to innovate and to be a world leader on many issues,” Harris said during a roundtable she held after touring clean energy labs at the school. “But sadly, it is also important to point out: We’ve fallen behind.”

During her tour, Harris met with researchers who are working on new electric vehicle technology that would help those vehicles—which can take hours to charge via home outlets—get powered up in 15 minutes. Developing the higher-level electric vehicle chargers is a project that hits on the Biden administration’s focus on creating new American green energy jobs, fighting climate change, and improving education.

New investments in these sectors is key to keeping the US a world leader as it contends with a rising China, Harris said.

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“We must be able to compete,” Harris said. “And so this is where we stand in the global order of things, yes, but it is also about an investment in our ability—as Americans, to always have had the ability to see what can be, unburdened by what’s been.”

Harris said America’s investment in research as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product has fallen for two decades, but Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a member of the roundtable discussion, said investment in research and development is key to the nation’s future. She pointed to how scientists were able to create a COVID-19 vaccine for public use in blistering time and said increased funding can lead to further scientific marvels.

“Think about applying that beyond the health space, in areas that we have neglected for so long,” Baldwin said. “If we want to create good-paying, family-supporting jobs, shared prosperity in this country, continue as a state like Wisconsin making things, building things like we’ve always been known to do, and fighting some of the biggest challenges that we face like our changing climate—that’s why we make the investment.” 

Congressional Republicans have argued Biden’s plan stretches the traditional definition of infrastructure, and US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee), another roundtable attendee, acknowledged “the fight for expanding the definition of infrastructure is upon us.” But, Moore said, viewing infrastructure as simply roads and bridges does not align with modern times.

“Broadband is the yellow bus of the 21st century,” Moore said.

Harris conceded that getting Biden’s plans through Congress is “not going to be easy,” but she said it is necessary. 

“Infrastructure is basically, how are you going to get where you need to go?” Harris said. That’s how I define infrastructure … and part of that has to be an investment in innovation so that we can get to the place where, certainly, other people are going. And hopefully we can get there at least on time, if not early.”

Tuesday’s visit was Harris’ first time in Wisconsin since the 2020 presidential campaign. Biden in February held a CNN town hall in Milwaukee, which was also his first time back in the state since the campaign.