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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during an interview

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" on October 3, 2021. (Photo: CBS/Screengrab)

To Lower Bill's Price Tag, Says AOC, Shorten Duration But Don't Gut Programs

"I think it's unfortunate that we have to compromise with ourselves for an ambitious agenda for working people," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Jake Johnson

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York argued Sunday that the best way to lower the price tag of Democrats' emerging reconciliation package may be to shorten the duration of proposed social programs instead of gutting their funding—or removing them from the bill entirely.

Acknowledging that dropping the legislation's top-line price tag below $3.5 trillion over a decade will likely be necessary to win the must-have votes of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and other corporate-backed conservative Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez said that "one of the ideas that's out there is: fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, we fully fund it for five years."

Proponents argue such an approach would ensure that people experience tangible benefits from the new programs, thus increasing the likelihood that they'll be extended in the future.

"There are so many different programs in the budget bill," she noted in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "First of all, I think it's unfortunate that we have to even, as Democrats, have a discussion about not having a child tax credit. I think it's unfortunate that we have to compromise with ourselves for an ambitious agenda for working people. I believe that free community college should be a standard."

The New York Democrat said she views green energy provisions in the reconciliation bill—known as the Build Back Better Act—as non-negotiable given the current state of the science, which shows that the international community is running out of time to slash greenhouse gas emissions and avert the worst of the climate crisis.

Manchin, a coal profiteer and close ally of the fossil fuel industry, has voiced opposition to renewable energy policies favored by progressives and said that natural gas—which is responsible for planet-warming methane emissions—"has to" play a role in Democrats' climate plans.

Ocasio-Cortez's remarks came as negotiations over the Build Back Better Act dragged on with little sign of an imminent breakthrough. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pushing her caucus to complete work on the reconciliation package before the end of the month.

In an attempt to break the impasse, according to the Washington Post, President Joe Biden "has pitched lawmakers on a compromise that would include as much as $2.3 trillion in new spending, but Manchin has said the package should top out at $1.5 trillion—a position that would slash the administration's original agenda by more than half."

"The choices are stark: Should tackling rising rates of homelessness be dropped in favor of confronting climate change? Should Democrats prioritize seniors over the poor? Is it more important to reduce the cost of child care or the cost of a school lunch?" the Post continued. "While many senior Democrats are urging Biden to choose a handful of programs and execute them well, this option is complicated by a lack of consensus about which priorities should prevail."

The Post reported that after Biden's visit to Capitol Hill on Friday, "progressives met immediately... for several hours to discuss how they could scale back the length of some programs they prioritize to help lower the bill's price tag."

In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—flatly rejected Manchin's $1.5 trillion proposal as inadequate. Jayapal and other leading progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have made clear that they view $3.5 trillion in spending over ten years as the compromise figure.

"That's not going to happen," Jayapal said of Manchin's counteroffer. "That's too small to get our priorities in. So, it's going to be somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5. And I think the White House is working on that right now, because, remember, what we want to deliver is child care, paid leave, climate change, housing."

As part of an effort to pare back their own party's reconciliation bill, Manchin and other conservative Democrats have advocated means testing as a way to limit the costs of proposed social programs such as Medicare expansion—an approach that progressives have slammed as morally and politically indefensible.

During her CNN interview, Jayapal noted that "research shows means testing actually doesn't target it more, but it does create a lot of administrative burden and a lot more cost."

"So," she said, "it's not what I want to do."

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the CPC, also rejected the idea of imposing stricter income limits on social programs to drive down the bill's overall spending level.

"Here's the key question: What's the way to get something funded for a long time?" Levin said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. "And the way is to make it big enough and universal enough and important enough so that the people demand it continue."

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