Ocasio-Cortez: Moderate senators “not really coming to the table”

Washington — Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, said Sunday that moderate Democratic senators are “not really coming to the table” to negotiate the details of a sweeping $3.5 trillion social spending package that is a cornerstone of President Biden’s economic agenda but has been at the center of infighting among Democrats.

“What we’re seeing here is the dynamic where progressives are trying to skin this cat nine different ways but moderates are not really coming to the table,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on “Face the Nation.” “This is the issue, is that we’re saying, ‘OK, we’re going down from 6 trillion to 3 trillion, now it’s 1 trillion,; and we have some of these conservatives that say, ‘Well, our line is zero, and you’re lucky if you get one.'”

The New York Democrat said the intraparty fighting isn’t a “tit-for-tat between personalities.”

Democratic leaders laid out a two-track strategy for passing a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the broader package, which includes plans for free community college, universal pre-K, expanding Medicare and combating climate change. 

But last week, progressives in the House successfully held up a vote on the more narrow infrastructure bill as they pushed for the Senate to pass the larger package first. The threat from progressives to oppose the infrastructure bill came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi effectively de-linked the two measures after she promised moderate Democrats that the House would consider that legislation by September 27.

Ocasio-Cortez, though, said while both bills need to pass, they will not clear Congress if they’re de-coupled.

“We can’t simply invent new terms mid-stream and then expect everyone else … to hold,” she said. “I’m willing to hold up my end of the bargain by sticking to both and we need to expect all of our lawmakers who were part of that deal to stick to that bargain.” 

Complicating the effort to send the measures to Mr. Biden’s desk are objections from two key moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to the wide-ranging legislation, including its $3.5 trillion price tag and the fine-print for some of its policies.

Manchin has indicated he would support a topline figure of $1.5 trillion for the social spending package, but progressives believe any negotiations should focus on what programs moderate Democrats are willing to cut.

“The White House isn’t making the demands to exclude universal child care or universal pre-K. This is coming from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, but those are the conversations that we need to have because the thing is is that Washington math is notoriously funny, and you can make a $1 trillion bill into $2 trillion, you can make a $3 trillion bill that helps fewer people,”she said. “That’s why we really need to talk about the substance of this.”

One option Democrats are exploring is shortening the time-frame for which programs will be funded from 10 years to five years, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“The compromise and the options we have before us is, do we shorten our funding programs? Do you reduce the level of funding? Do you cut programs altogether?” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Non-negotiable provisions for the congresswoman, though, are those that combat climate change, though that is likely to bump up against opposition from Manchin.

While the New York Democrat said Mr. Biden, himself a moderate, has been a “good-faith partner” to the full Democratic caucus, she knocked Democrats like Manchin and Sinema for pushing their own policy preferences over those of the broader party.

“For quite some time, we have seen that some of these conservatives in the party, this is not about a team, it’s about individual preferences, but that is OK,” she said. “We’re going to come together. I believe in the vision and commitment of our party for working people, and the thing is we have to respect all families and all voters.”