Ocasio-Cortez frustrated with congressional ‘abdication’ on legislating coronavirus packages

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized the negotiation process for coronavirus relief packages, saying rank-and-file members have been all but shut out of the process.

“It’s really hard to understate how devastating this has been, in terms of our legislative and oversight abilities, for an average member of Congress to do their job,” she said in an interview with The Intercept. “And I think that abdication of our ability — I think that’s not only abdication but that kind of challenge and those very hard limitations in our legislative responsibilities in D.C. — have had enormous impact on the response.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said she was “absolutely boggled” the bills have passed with such overwhelming support, expressing her frustration that members haven’t been able to be on the Hill or have an opportunity to weigh in on these massive spending bills.

“We’re having trillions of dollars in federal response being hacked out by three to five people in a backroom. And then they bring it back to over 500 members of Congress and the only option that you get is yes or no,” she said. “This is pretty unprecedented in the history of Congress.”

The progressive New York freshman was the sole House Democrat to vote against the fourth coronavirus package alongside a handful of Republicans because she felt it didn’t do enough to help hard-hit districts like her own in Queens and the Bronx.

The $484 billion replenished the small business payroll protection loan and other emergency grant programs, as well as $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

Additional funding for state and local governments was left out of the emergency interim bill passed last month, with Republicans skeptical of providing a “bailout” for mismanaged governments.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said rank-and-file Democrats have been trying to get more input via one-on-one meetings with leadership, as well as organizing blocs to push through their priorities. She cited the Hispanic Caucus’ push to include protections for mixed immigration-status families.

However, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was still skeptical about what the bottom line will be for all the progressive priorities Democrats are floating.

“There’s potential here, but also we don’t know what kinda bill this is going to be, right? Is this a messaging bill that just intends on putting a bunch of things through and leaving it on [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s desk and having him say no to it? Or is this a serious bill where we’re going to commit to making sure that we get some key priorities?” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is aiming to have the Democratic-led “CARES 2” package could be ready next week.

Democrats want to go far beyond the $2.2 trillion CARES package passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in March. Since the crisis began, Congress has spent nearly $3 trillion fighting the pandemic.

In this fifth package, Democrats want to secure likely more than $500 billion for state, county and municipal governments, as well as additional funding for states to use on Medicare. They also intend to expand unemployment insurance beyond the $600 per week allotted in the CARES package, address issues with the small business loan program and provide hazard pay to essential frontline workers.

“They’re [constituents] asking me for clarity on what to expect, and it’s very difficult as a member of Congress to not be able to give them a straight answer because I’m not … we don’t get a straight answer until the bill text is finalized,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said.

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