Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday urged West Virginians to support the White House’s American Rescue Plan, saying the country must take bold, fearless and ambitious steps to address the public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She compared it to past generations facing the Great Depression and World War II.
“If we don’t pass this bill, it is our sincere belief that more people will die who should not, more people will lose their jobs who should not and more children will miss critical days in class,” Harris said.
Harris and White House staff met Thursday with editors and executives from the Charleston Gazette-Mail and (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch via Zoom teleconference.
She said the $1.9 trillion package, which would accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations and provide a new round of economic relief for families and small businesses hard-hit by the pandemic, has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Monetary Fund and Moody’s. Congress still must pass it.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., is likely to play a critical role in the success or failure of the plan and is leading a bipartisan group of senators calling for revisions to the legislation. White House aides said Thursday that reaching out to West Virginia was not a tactical move intended to influence Manchin.
“It’s a case we’re trying to make all across the country,” said David Kamin, deputy director of the National Economic Council.
In a call he set up, Manchin and a bipartisan group of 15 fellow senators told White House officials Sunday the plan needs to be modified in order to win passage in the Senate, where Republicans are pushing back against the bill.
In particular, the group raised concerns that a proposal to provide a third round of stimulus checks at $1,400 each would put money in the pockets of people with high incomes who don’t need the help.
Andy Slavitt, senior administration advisor on the pandemic, said that while he anticipates “negotiation around the edges,” there is no question of the necessity to fund a new round of pandemic relief and economic assistance.
“In a world of tough decisions, this is not one of them,” he said.
Harris said the package would provide additional funding needed to accelerate the pace for vaccinating Americans.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and frankly, West Virginia has been one of the most successful states in getting vaccinations to the people,” Harris said.
Slavitt said he pointed out during a White House briefing Wednesday that, at the current pace, it will be months before all Americans can be vaccinated.
“Nobody took that as good news,” he said. “Americans are feeling at risk. They’re tired of the pandemic. They want to get back to normal life.”
President Joe Biden has committed to administering 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, and on Tuesday announced the U.S. will be purchasing an additional 200 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
“The president and vice president have been pushing us to make that a floor and not a ceiling,” Slavitt said of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.
Without passage of the American Rescue Plan, which includes $20 billion for a national vaccination program in conjunction with states and localities, Slavitt said, current vaccination efforts will quickly “run into a brick wall.”
“Without Congress acting very quickly, both West Virginia and the federal government will run into constraints,” he said.
Likewise, Kamin said, with the pandemic-related loss of 10 million jobs in the U.S. and 40,000 jobs in West Virginia, the economy will continue to struggle without additional financial assistance to families and small businesses.
“The economy is not going to fully recover until we change the course of this disease,” he said.
The plan calls for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That has drawn pushback from Republicans.
Harris said passage of the legislation is not a partisan issue: “Those kids who are missing school don’t care who their parents voted for.”
She said that having Americans unite to take control of the public health and economic issues posed by the pandemic will send a message to the world.
“It’s part of our culture and character to meet big problems with big solutions,” Harris said.