AOC says she owes it to community to pressure fellow Democrats over spending plan as tensions rise in Congress

Democrats divided on how to push through two bills – infrastructure and social welfare – with progressives insisting their demands are only about holding President Biden to his promises

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Tuesday 28 September 2021 23:41
Obama admits he can afford to fund Biden's $3.5tn reconciliation bill
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Progressive Democrats are opposing plans to vote on a bipartisan infrastructure agreement ahead of a planned vote on Thursday.

“It comes from my district and it comes from my community,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez told The Independent. “And I need to come back to our district with the investments that they need.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had initially promised a group of moderate Democrats to hold a vote on Monday on the infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in July after they had requested the bill be passed first. Speaker Pelosi later announced that the vote would be held on Thursday.

But progressives objected to putting the bill forward without also having a vote on a separate bill that includes social welfare spending like child care, tuition-free community college, long-term in-home care for elderly people, and adding dental, vision and hearing to Medicare.

The bill would be passed in the Senate through a process called reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass it with only 51 votes as long as it is related to the budget – thereby evading a Republican filibuster. Speaker Pelosi had initially said the bipartisan bill would not be passed without the reconciliation bill.

Democratic Representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (C) arrives for a Democratic Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 28 September 2021

“We are a yes on both, nothing short of that,” Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a member of the so-called “Squad” with Ms Ocasio-Cortez, told The Independent. “I am not voting unless the two bills are passing together.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Chairman, said in a statement that voting on the bipartisan bill before the reconciliation bill would violate an agreement with the Democratic caucus.

“More importantly, it will end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill,” he said. “I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill.”

Rep Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who met with President Joe Biden last week, told reporters that progressives are simply trying to pass Mr Biden’s agenda.

“This is what we ran on,” she said. “This is not about trust. This is about verify.”

Rep Katie Porter of California, who represents a swing district, said she is a “no” at the moment.

“I’m going to vote for both these bills,” she said. “I’m waiting on them. We don’t have the agreement from the Senate. These bills are not on the floor yet.”

Ms Porter said she hopes that the infrastructure bill comes to the floor with an agreement and with the votes to pass it.

Rep Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who was one of the moderate Democrats who wanted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure agreement first, told reporters he was confident that Democrats would pass the bipartisan bill.

“I don’t believe that a faction of Democrats are going to vote against the president, vote against what we need as a country, vote against the Democratic Party, we’re all going to be and we’re going to get this across the finish line,” he said. “There’s no one better at this than Speaker Pelosi.”

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