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To Advance Bold Progressive Policies, Ocasio-Cortez Takes on Wall Street Democrat for Seat on Key Tax Committee

As Democratic leaders push conservative "pay-go" rule, the newly elected democratic socialist is pursuing solutions on the "scale of the crises we're facing."

"Of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be on Ways and Means and not another Wall Street politician using large corporate donations to masquerade as a so-called 'problem solver,'" declared Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

When it comes to the perennial question of how to "pay for" the big-ticket items on the progressive agenda—from a Green New Deal to Medicare for All to tuition-free public college—economists and policy experts have comprehensively charted a number of viable paths forward.

"Of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be on Ways and Means and not another Wall Street politician using large corporate donations to masquerade as a so-called 'problem solver.'"
—Shaunna Thomas, UltraViolet
But putting theory and analysis into action requires the exercise of political power, and that is precisely what Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is attempting to do by challenging Wall Street-friendly New York Democrat and self-described fiscal conservative Rep. Tom Suozzi for a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

As the House's primary tax-writing body, Ways and Means would be directly involved in the crafting of any potential Medicare for All and Green New Deal legislation—two causes Ocasio-Cortez has unabashedly championed alongside a record number of congressional Democrats.

"Ocasio-Cortez is routinely asked how she plans to pay for her aggressive economic agenda, and the first answer begins with securing a spot on the House's key tax-writing committee," noted The Intercept's Ryan Grim, who first reported on the New York democratic socialist's plan to vie for a Ways and Means seat on Tuesday. "Ocasio-Cortez's decision to go after a spot on the Ways and Means Committee is part of a broader strategy to grow progressive power in the coming Congress."

Though Ocasio-Cortez has yet to publicly acknowledge her push for a Ways and Means spot, progressive groups are already mobilizing in support of the effort, arguing that ambitious climate solutions and legislation like Medicare for All will not get off the ground unless bold progressives hold positions on powerful congressional committees.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—who is on track to become House Speaker in the next Congress—has the final say on committee assignments. As Grim pointed out, freshmen members "are almost never given spots" on the Ways and Means Committee.

"Democrats in Washington need to learn the lessons from this election and fast. Voters voted for change. Voters voted for bold and progressive leadership, not politicians beholden to the big banks and Wall Street," said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet. "Of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be on Ways and Means and not another Wall Street politician using large corporate donations to masquerade as a so-called 'problem solver.'"

Joe Dinkin, campaigns director for the Working Families Party, added that "Ocasio-Cortez is a powerful voice for the millions of Americans who want to see solutions from our leaders like the Green New Deal—ones that meet the scale of the crises we're facing."

Ocasio-Cortez's reported bid for a Ways and Means spot as a step toward pursuing her bold agenda comes as the House Democratic leadership is considering moving in the opposite direction by imposing two rules that progressive critics say would completely undermine ambitious policy moves.

One of the proposed rules, pushed by Pelosi, would "require a three-fifths supermajority to raise individual income taxes on the lowest-earning 80 percent of taxpayers"—a restriction that progressives said would make Medicare for All and a Green New Deal impossible to fund. Ocasio-Cortez has publicly denounced the proposed rule.

The other rule, also backed by Pelosi and incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), is known as "pay-go"—a fiscally conservative mandate requiring that all new spending be offset by budget cuts or tax hikes.

Economist Stephanie Kelton—who has urged Democrats to ditch concerns about the deficit and move ahead with a Green New Deal and other priorities—has argued that "pay-go" is "a self-imposed, economically illiterate approach to budgeting."

"Instead of vowing budget chastity," Kelton concluded in a recent interview, "Democrats should be articulating an agenda that excites voters so that they can unleash the full power of the public purse on their behalf."

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