Democrats take over House divided on progressive agenda
The House of Representatives has a new Democrat majority, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not leading a united front. The party’s new progressive wing is challenging the establishment on spending measures and climate action.
As the incoming class of 2018 make their way to Capitol Hill, the first order of business will be a vote on a package of rules to govern the 116th Congress. Already, some of the party’s more progressive upstarts have registered their displeasure.
Pelosi’s rule package includes a provision known as “Pay As You Go,” or PAYGO. This measure would require any new government spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere, or increases in revenue through tax hikes. Tweeting on Wednesday night, incoming Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) said that they would vote against Pelosi’s rules package as long as PAYGO was included.
Tomorrow I will also vote No on the rules package, which is trying to slip in #PAYGO.PAYGO isn’t only bad economics, as @RoKhanna explains; it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg.We shouldn’t hinder ourselves from the start. https://t.co/WW3UaBs7vh— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 2, 2019
This is how absurd PAYGO is: We campaigned in the Better Deal for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over 10 years. Under PAYGO, if after 6 years that plan wld produce a deficit, it would not be in order — even if in 10 years it wld create 16 million jobs and revenue growth!— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) January 3, 2019
“PAYGO isn’t only bad economics,” Cortez wrote, “it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare” and other legislation. A self-described ‘Democratic Socialist,’ Cortez favors bold measures like universal healthcare and a $15 federal minimum wage, both of which would call for massive hikes in government spending to implement.
Since her shock victory over ten-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary last June, Cortez has become a poster child for the new, more unapologetically left-wing branch of the Democratic Party. Her victory and the media hubbub surrounding it prompted Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to declare her the “future of our party” in July.
While Cortez and Khanna plan on voting no, the Democratic old guard still reigns supreme, from a numbers perspective at least. To block Pelosi’s rules package, 18 Democrats will need to vote against it – 19 if Rep. Tom Reed (R-New York) votes with Pelosi, as he has said he would.
Spending is just one bone of contention between Pelosi and the progressives that has emerged since November’s midterm elections.
Cortez has been one of the loudest voices campaigning for action on climate change since the midterms, joining environmental activists from Sunrise for a sit-in protest outside Pelosi’s office a week after the elections. The New York congresswoman is also a vocal proponent of a ‘Green New Deal,’ an ambitious plan to end America’s dependency on fossil fuels and move the country’s electrical grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
According to the text of the plan itself, the deal would go far beyond any environmental legislation ever enacted in the US, and would also include measures to implement, “social, economic, racial, regional and gender-based justice.”
The plan also calls for government intervention in upgrading “every residential and industrial building” in the country, regulating the vehicles Americans drive, and ensuring money is transferred to “frontline” and “marginalized” communities affected by climate change. The deal is backed by 40 Democrats, but is still a long way off from being realized.
40 Representatives now back the Select Committee for a #GreenNewDeal -- one of the most ambitious economic and climate policies ever discussed in Congress.Our organizing is working. We're changing politics in America.✊🏻✊🏼 ✊🏽 ✊🏾✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/31noqJMCB3— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) December 19, 2018
Pelosi’s rules include a measure that would create a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but go nowhere near as far as Cortez and her cohorts would like. Cortez criticized the Democratic establishment for calling the Green New Deal “too controversial,” and her spokesman told The Hill that Pelosi’s committee is “going to be completely incapable of solving the greatest threat to human kind.”
A few weeks ago, I joined youth activists in a specific demand for a Green New Deal Committee.It had 3 simple elements:1. No fossil fuel money on climate cmte2. Offer solutions for impacted communities3. Draft sample #GreenNewDealAll 3 were rejected as “too controversial.”— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 31, 2018
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida), designated by Pelosi as chairwoman of the climate committee, said last month that the committee’s work will be “clearly in the spirit of the Green New Deal,” a concession unlikely to please climate activists.
If there is one thing the fractured Democratic party can agree on, however, it’s opposition to the current president. Speaking to USA Today, Pelosi vowed to confront President Donald Trump on everything from his immigration policies to his tax returns and family’s businesses.
“He was used to serving with a Republican Congress, House and Senate that was a rubber stamp to him. That won't be the case,” the California Democrat said. “Oversight of government by the Congress is our responsibility. That’s the role we play.”
Democrats have also vowed not to authorize any money for Trump’s border wall, which has resulted in a government shutdown that has lasted nearly two weeks, with no end in sight.
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