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Ocasio-Cortez breaks with Pelosi in key early vote for Democrats

Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in November.Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Progressive incoming House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plans to lay down an early marker with party leaders on Congress’s first day by voting against a package of legislative rules because it contains an austerity provision demanded by centrists.

The rules measure, set for a vote on Thursday when the new Congress convenes, will reimpose a “pay as you go” requirement that would allow challenges to legislation that adds to the deficit. The rules were negotiated by likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to satisfy concerns among members of the new the 235-member majority representing more conservative areas of the country.

Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old representative-elect from New York City, said on Twitter Wednesday that the system referred to as paygo “isn’t only bad economics,” but is “also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg. We shouldn’t hinder ourselves from the start.”


Her tweet came after California Democrat Ro Khanna said he will oppose the rules package because of the paygo provision. Democratic leaders can lose as many 17 votes within their ranks and still pass the rules package, which is usually a mundane vote for House majorities. Many Democrats don’t like the paygo policy but are willing to support the overall rules package because they favor other provisions.

The decision by Ocasio-Cortez is an early signal that the incoming lawmaker won’t be shy about using her vote and social media megaphone — she already has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter — to oppose Pelosi when she considers it necessary. Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, has become a star on the left for her pugnacious attitude in advancing liberal causes.

Progressive Caucus

But Ocasio-Cortez may not be joined by many of her fellow progressives in opposing the Democratic rules. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington said in a joint statement Wednesday they plan to vote for the rules package after receiving assurances that paygo can be waived and won’t be an impediment to progressive priorities.


House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said there had been “a lot of misunderstanding” over the proposed rules.

“I’m not happy anyone wants to vote against the rules package,” McGovern said, but he expressed confidence it would pass.

Warren Gunnels, policy director for independent Senator Bernie Sanders, urged House Democrats on Tuesday block the paygo rule, describing it as a needless “roadblock” to advancing progressive legislation such as Medicare for all and universal access to a college education.

A form of paygo already enacted into law requires across-the-board spending cuts to pay for spending increases or revenue decreases enacted by Congress at the beginning of a new year. Such cuts are slated to go into effect this month unless Congress passes legislation turning them off, as it did for last year’s tax cuts.

Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, defended the Democrats’ paygo rule Wednesday as a way of heading off the across-the-board cuts.

“We must replace CUTGO to allow Democrats to designate appropriate offsets (including revenue increases),” Hammill said in response to Khanna’s tweet. “A vote AGAINST the Democratic Rules package is a vote to let Mick Mulvaney make across the board cuts, unilaterally reversing Democratic initiatives and funding increases.” Mulvaney is President Donald Trump’s budget director.

The dispute reflects early tension between the party’s ascendant progressive wing and more conservative members who view deficit reduction as a priority.


Ocasio-Cortez’s dissent follows her criticism of House leaders over a new select committee on climate change, which she said was too weak in part because the House rules measure didn’t grant it power to draft legislation and issue subpoenas.

“In DC + even in our own party, it‘s apparently too controversial to ask that we keep oil+gas co’s away from enviro policy,” she said in a tweet Monday.