Ocasio-Cortez Slams Right-Wing Democrats for Watering Down Build Back Better Act

After the House passed the largely inadequate bipartisan infrastructure bill on Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) criticized the bill and the political maneuvering around it, warning of dire consequences if the infrastructure bill is passed without the reconciliation bill.

She also criticized arguments that progressives shouldn’t express disapproval over the infrastructure bill, pointing out that those same arguments never seem to apply to conservative and moderate Democrats over the Build Back Better (BBB) Act.

“For people who say ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’ to pass legislation, consider why no one tells that to the Dems who killed passage of Rx drug pricing and Universal Pre-K this week over small process demands from safe Dem seats in places like NY and Hawaii,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote, referring to conservative Democrats like Rep. Kathleen Rice (New York) who opposed crucial elements of the Build Back Better Act.

“The reason platitudes like this are insulting is because they are exclusively employed to deny the working class, POC, and youth’s basic demands for livability. Like affordable rx drugs,” she continued. “No one says this to the safe-seat Dems who derailed climate action and healthcare over a [Congressional Budget Office (CBO)] table.”

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) broke a months-long promise from Democratic leaders to keep the infrastructure and reconciliation bills tied together, allowing the infrastructure bill to come to a vote without a final deal on the reconciliation bill. Though progressive lawmakers have fought to keep the bills together for months, only six progressive lawmakers voted against the bill in objection to the decoupling: Representatives Jamaal Bowman (New York), Cori Bush (Missouri), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez emphasized the importance of keeping the bills tied together on Sunday, comparing the infrastructure bill to a lock and the reconciliation bill to a key that can unlock critical action on the climate crisis.

“If we message [the infrastructure bill] as good on climate alone when it’s not, we stop the pressure for BBB’s passage,” she wrote. “The desire to pass both together isn’t the unnuanced stance some pundits think it is.” While the infrastructure bill is a mixed bag of proposals, she said, the Build Back Better Act has the potential to drastically improve upon those proposals.

“If BBB [is] gutted/dies, we may have just locked in US emissions and thrown away our biggest chance to combat climate change,” Ocasio-Cortez continued.

Progressives fear that with the infrastructure bill passed, conservative Democrats who negotiated the bill, like Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), will have no motivation to vote for the Build Back Better Act. Without the legislative shield of the infrastructure bill’s passage, in other words, the reconciliation bill may be watered down even further than it already has been — or even killed completely.

As Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, conservative Democrats held up a vote on the reconciliation bill at the last minute on Friday, sabotaging the original plan to pass both bills. To justify this move, they cited concerns over the price of the bill and whether its cost will add to the deficit, even though the White House’s framework estimates that the bill will actually raise more funds than it will spend. Conservative Democrats’ supposed concern over the deficit is especially ironic considering their dogged support of the infrastructure bill, which the CBO has said will add $256 billion to the deficit.

Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) pointed out their colleagues’ hypocrisy over the weekend. “Interesting. Conservative Dems want to make sure that Build Back Better is fully paid for at exactly the same time that they voted for an infrastructure bill that, according to the CBO, increases the federal deficit by $256 billion,” Sanders said. “Not very consistent!”

The New York lawmaker also pointed out the weakness of the infrastructure bill and the tendency of moderate lawmakers to exaggerate its good effects. While the original draft of the bill had a provision to replace all lead pipes in the country, for instance, it now only has funds to replace a small fraction of pipes. The reconciliation bill, on the other hand, contains funds to fill in the gaps left by Republicans and by conservative Democrats’ negotiations.

“Without BBB, many communities historically denied clean water will continue to be denied,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “I want to protect our party from the disappointment and collapse in turnout from communities like mine that occurs when we tell them we did things we didn’t do. We shouldn’t promise all lead pipes will be fixed if that is not the case. Some will, most won’t. We must push for BBB.”