Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the only Democrat in Congress to oppose the previous multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package, said during a conference call with progressive leaders Monday that communities across the U.S. cannot afford another incremental relief bill that delivers crumbs for the vulnerable and massive bailouts for big businesses.
"Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment," said Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat. "It's not helpful. For people to say: 'Oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it. You know, we got a nickel, a dime in a trillion-dollar bill so a nickel is more than nothing, so we should support it' is unacceptable... It's like putting a Band-Aid on an enormous wound."
"For people to say 'Oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it. You know, we got a nickel, a dime in a trillion-dollar bill so a nickel is more than nothing, so we should support it' is unacceptable."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
As the legislation that Congress passed last month fails to deliver adequate relief to workers, the unemployed, and small businesses, progressive lawmakers and outside advocacy groups are pushing for the inclusion of a slate of priorities in the next major stimulus bill, including $2,000 monthly recurring payments and opening Medicare to the unemployed and uninsured.
But the Democratic leadership is at the moment focused on negotiating interim legislation that would provide additional funding for a flawed small business loan program and hospitals while leaving out money for states and cities, hazard pay for frontline workers, and other progressive demands.
Ocasio-Cortez said during the conference call Monday that based on what she has read of the interim bill in press reports, she is leaning toward opposing the measure. The New York Democrat and other lawmakers on the call stressed that they have yet to see the full text of the bill, and that negotiations on the measure are taking place between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration behind closed doors.
"It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money in the context of not knowing when Congress is going to reconvene," said Ocasio-Cortez. "And pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back, and then leave town again. I am not here to support that... I'm not here for a $5 bill. And I will not insult my community with one."
"Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment...for people to say 'Well, we got something, so we might as well support it. We got a nickel, a dime in a trillion-dollar bill so a nickel is more than nothing, so we should support it' is unacceptable." -@AOC on #PutPeopleFirst pic.twitter.com/KwOOwsaE7u
— “Ideas That Are Lying Around” (@_waleedshahid) April 20, 2020
The impetus of Monday's call was to outline progressive priorities for what has been dubbed "Phase Four" of the federal government's coronavirus relief effort, which has thus far been marred by dysfunction and legislative solutions that do not come close to matching the scale of the public health and economic crisis facing the United States.
"The vast majority of people have still not received any relief and bills are piling up," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on the call. "If we're going to climb out of this crisis, we need bold solutions."
The conversation was attended by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.), the other CPC co-chair. Leaders from progressive advocacy groups Indivisible, United We Dream, Community Change Action, and MoveOn also took part.
"If we're going to climb out of this crisis, we need bold solutions that match the scale of the crisis we're facing today."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Echoing Ocasio-Cortez's condemnation of incrementalism, the lawmakers and activists emphasized the urgency of the moment and called on the Democratic leadership to use the significant power they have to deliver a bill that—unlike the CARES Act—puts the needs of frontline workers, the unemployed, the uninsured, and other vulnerable groups ahead of corporate interests.
"Settling for less means that we lose lives," said Tlaib.
Earlier this month, as Common Dreams reported, the Executive Board of the CPC outlined a number of demands for the next stimulus package. The Progressive Caucus is demanding monthly $2,000 stimulus payments to all U.S. households, a nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, nationwide vote-by-mail, and a suspension of all consumer debt collection. On the conference call Monday, participants stressed that relief must be made available to those who were neglected or entirely left out of previous bills, such as undocumented immigrants.
Whether the Democratic leadership is willing accept any of the progressives' demands, and how quickly another massive stimulus package could come together, remains to be seen.
In a Dear Colleague letter on Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote vaguely that as negotiations with the Trump administration over the interim legislation move forward, "we are working on CARES 2 to prepare for the path ahead to support the lives and livelihoods of the American people."
"It is recognized that the key to opening our economy is testing, treatment, contact tracing, and quarantine," said Pelosi. "It is self-evident that America's heart is full of love. Let us be worthy of the American people's generosity of spirit."
On the conference call, progressive lawmakers voiced frustration about the lack of transparency surrounding the interim bill, lamenting—like Ocasio-Cortez—that most of what they know about the legislation has come from news reports.
Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, raised concern Monday that if Democratic leaders give Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration what they want in the interim legislation, progressives will "have less leverage for the coming fights."
"We know that Republicans are taking advantage of this moment to shovel more money to big corporations. They are simply indifferent to the human suffering that is unfolding before our eyes," said Greenberg. "That's why it's so critical that Democratic leadership use their leverage and the full power of the House to demand solutions that rise to the needs of the moment."
Jayapal echoed Greenberg, saying the Progressive Caucus has "real concerns about giving away leverage now without getting some of the priorities that we need."
"We have to recognize the urgency of the moment, the scale of the crisis," said Jayapal. "We cannot just give away the things that Republicans want most when we know that they're not going to fix the problem that is in front of us."