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Chaos Within House Democrats On Their First Day In Charge

Even before the fight for the Democratic nomination for 2020 has fully taken shape, the party is attempting to navigate an uneasy new balance: specifically, the balance between the older established population and the incoming “freshmen” progressives. The star of this new demographic is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old representative-elect of New York City, who has made waves through her self-professed democratic socialism, status as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and social media prowess (claiming over 1.7 million followers on Twitter and 1.2 on Instagram).

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to the journalistic project El Borde, 2018. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cortez and others have already made it clear that they will not hesitate to oppose just-elected House Speaker Pelosi if the need arises. The rules package, usually a “mundane vote” for the House majority party, has become a point of contention due to its pay-as-you-go or ‘paygo’ provision. The paygo rule requires that any expenditures be immediately offset through tax increases or other budget cuts; in other words, that funds to finance such legislation must be currently available other than borrowed. The practice makes passing liberal legislation more difficult- if the entire fight against economic inequality, healthcare and climate change must be paid for upfront, it would be impossible to enact all desired reforms.

Official photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2012. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Another source of discontent is the fact that pay-as-you-go is often easily waived when it comes to tax cuts such as the 2001, 2003, and 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans, as from a fiscally conservative standpoints tax cuts are expected to stimulate growth that will make up the cost in contrast to more liberal entitlement programs. A clear example of this is the Affordable Care Act, whose subsidies were “artificially made smaller because of pay-go rules.” The austere clause is shown to be generally harmful to the US economy, especially when it is in the midst of a downturn.

“This is the core of progressives’ complaint,” according to Tara Golshan of Vox.They want to know why they have to rein in their boldest policies when Republicans have been able to pass tax cuts unfettered by budget rules.”

Ro Khanna, California’s Democrat representative-elect, tweeted his opposition to the rules package on January 2nd. He told Washington Post that “this is in no way a vote against the leadership; this is a vote against austerity economics that has caused great harm to middle-class and working families.”

“I don’t think we need to handcuff ourselves in ways that Republicans never have,” he said.

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the tweet with her own defiance of paygo.

Still others such as Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Ilhan Omar (Min.) have pledged their support to the package despite their disapproval of paygo following promises from House leaders including Pelosi that it “will not be an impediment to advancing key progressive priorities.” Pocan and Jayapal are co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, while Omar has turned heads as the first person to wear a hijab in Congress (officially overturning a 181-year-old rule against the practice on January 3rd.)

These representatives believe Pelosi’s assertions that paygo is about preventing Republican chicanery from destroying liberal bills and not about blocking them. Paste Magazine calls this debate a “litmus test” of Pelosi’s support of the new progressives.

Pelosi and the left-wing of her party have already clashed on other issues such as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed ‘Green New Deal’ that aims to address economic inequality along with climate change. Following the re-initiation of a panel addressing climate issues, ‘Select Committee on the Climate Crisis,’ Pelosi disappointed Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters by removing the committee’s power to move legislation or subpoena testimony.

Apart from this, Pelosi’s pick of the chair (Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida) has been open about her lukewarm outlook on the Green New Deal. “[It’s] not going to be our sole focus,” she said bluntly. The chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, expressed similar sentiments, calling the Green New Deal both “technologically” and “politically [in]feasible.”

These decisions have alienated many from the ‘old’ Democratic party. “The message [Democratic leaders] are sending is that we as a party, Democrats, stand for fiscal discipline,” says Stephanie Kelton, a progressive economist with Stony Brook University. “What I hear is that Democrats are willing to prioritize budget outcomes over human ones.”

Featured Image Via Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at the DFL Press Conference. Courtesy of Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

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