By Stacy M. Brown
Vice President Kamala Harris was as integral to the negotiations as anyone else in helping to reach a bipartisan deal so America could avoid defaulting on its debt obligations.
Also, in two-plus years in office, the nation’s first Black and woman vice president already has carved an indelible mark on many impactful policies that have seen significant increases in small and minority-owned businesses and record low Black unemployment.
Harris, a force during her years in the U.S. Senate and as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, also has spearheaded work to help women retain autonomy over their bodies despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade legislation.
In an exclusive interview, the vice president pledged more of the same going forward from the Biden-Harris administration.
“One of the most important aspects of where we are – and our goal was to avoid the kinds of losses [Republicans] had initially proposed – and that’s very significant,” Harris said of the bipartisan budget deal reached earlier in the week.
The deal places caps on spending for the next two years, claws back about $28 billion in unspent COVID relief money, and strips $20 billion of funds earmarked for the Internal Revenue Service.
President Biden had slotted $80 billion for the IRS to help curtail tax cheaters, but the GOP sought to protect wealthy taxpayers who primarily seek loopholes to avoid paying federal taxes.
The debt ceiling agreement restarts federal student loan payments even as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legality of the Biden-Harris forgiveness plan.
Congress hopes to vote this week on the deal, which also added new work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Association Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
Veterans and the unhoused are exempt from such requirements.
“We’ve been able to maintain what we needed to do to preserve social security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits. As a result, we actually see increases there,” Harris stated.
With a steady eye on the present and future, the vice president noted the administration sought to protect the economic gains made during its first two years.
“In two years, we’ve created 12.7 million jobs and 800,000 manufacturing jobs,” Harris declared.
“A lot of these issues were what we were fighting to preserve. For example, if they required [new] work requirements, we would preserve many exceptions to the requirements.”
For example, Harris noted that any requirements for veterans and those who are housing insecure were non-starters.
“Veterans and housing-insecure people, not just the homeless, would be exempt. We were not willing to compromise,” she insisted.
The debt ceiling crisis and subsequent deal reminded voters of the significance of choosing candidates who have their constituents’ best interest, Harris remarked.
“So many of the issues have to do with who is in elected office. It comes down to the power of the people to elect representatives who reflect their values,” the vice president proclaimed.
“When the majority of people on legislative bodies understand that you shouldn’t create policies on the backs of poor people, that’s policy that most respect our values,” she continued.
She pledged that the administration would keep pushing forward, stand up, and speak up about the needs of working people and families whom she said have been on the outside of politicians’ priority lists for too long.
“We’ve had to keep them on the inside of the priority list,” she said of the Biden-Harris administration.
In the fast-paced 20-minute interview, the vice president declared small business a passion.
She said her mother and “second mother,” Ms. Shelton, who lived two doors down and ran a nursery school above her childhood home, helped show her the importance of small businesses.
“Ms. Shelton was a small business owner, matriarch to the community. She was a community leader, a civic leader, who mentored people in the community,” Harris recalled.
“I was raised with an understanding of the importance of small businesses. They aren’t just business owners. They are civic leaders and community leaders and are so much a part of the community’s cultural fabric.
“When I was in the U.S. Senate, I was able to work with my colleagues to get an extra $12 billion put into community banks, which are banks that are in the community who understand the community and its needs and who will create access to capital often where the big banks don’t give access to capital for our startups, young entrepreneurs, and small businesses.”
She maintained that the work has continued in her role as vice president.
Harris helped to create the Economic Opportunity Coalition, where private sector funders put money in community banks and where access to capital has increased for small business owners.
Harris gushed about a recent gathering she convened that consisted of young entrepreneurs and business leaders in tech, space, and climate work.
“They were mostly young Black men doing such innovative and good work,” she said.
“I convened to let them know what’s available to them in terms of support, access to capital, and helping them get market access. Those are some of the old barriers to those being able to achieve great success.”
Finally, the vice president demanded that women have autonomy over their bodies despite the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
She said her mom had always displayed passion and anger about existing disparities for women of color, particularly Black women.
“When I was in the U.S. Senate, we began proposing legislation to address this crisis, which is a crisis,” Harris exclaimed.
“The United States of America is one of the world’s wealthiest, if not the richest, nations. [But], we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates, particularly Black women who are dying at three times the rate of others.
“When you look at Black women in connection to childbirth, it has nothing to do with economic status or educational status. It literally has to do with so often she walks into that hospital or clinic, and she is a Black woman who is not always taken seriously.
“So, I’ve been working to address a number of issues, including racial bias. We need to train medical professionals about racial bias so they can take these women seriously.
“One of my particular joys is that I’m proposing that we rely on Doulas to help teach all the other medical professionals. Doulas are women from the community who understand the importance of community health approaches to healthcare.”
Harris added that U.S. Democratic Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, among others, helped to pass the Momnibus Act of 2021, which helps protect women from bias in the medical field.
“We need to give all women access to quality care,” Harris said.
“Since I’ve been doing this work, we’ve challenged states to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from two months to 12 after birth. So far, 33 states and the District of Columbia have answered the call to extend postpartum care.
“These mothers need help and assurance that they are doing ok and that we care for all their needs.”
On Roe v. Wade, Harris concluded:
“One does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held belief to agree that the government should not tell that woman what to do with her body. That’s between her and her pastor, priest, rabbi, or whoever she decides. But, again, it’s about people’s freedom to make those decisions.
“We are seeing states across the country where they are criminalizing health care providers, giving them jail time. We see women being punished in awful ways. In Southern states, they have to pull together money to travel.
“Most women who receive an abortion are [already] mothers. So, they need money, childcare, and transportation just to exercise their right over their own body. This is a movement.
“Let’s build a coalition because these so-called leaders attacking women’s reproductive rights are the same ones attacking voting rights.
“We need federal legislation. We need Congress to put back the protections of Roe. A woman’s choice, not the government, decides what happens with her body.”