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By Benjy Sarlin
WASHINGTON — Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday she would vote against her own party’s rules for the incoming Congress over restrictions on deficit spending, pushing long-simmering Democratic divisions into public view.
At issue is House leadership’s plan to include “PAYGO,” a rule Democrats have adopted in the past that requires them to offset any increase in the deficit by cutting spending or raising revenue elsewhere.
“PAYGO isn’t only bad economics…it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare + other leg.,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday. “We shouldn’t hinder ourselves from the start.”
She joined Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who came out against the rules package earlier while warning PAYGO “unilaterally disarms the incoming Democratic majority’s ability to govern.”
The rule is not ironclad and has been waived in the past. Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill noted on Twitter that Congress is already governed by a stricter version of PAYGO that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. That legislation forces cuts to programs unless Congress overrides it, which they’ve done under President Donald Trump.
But the issue has also emerged as a stand-in for a larger divide between the party’s progressive wing and more centrist Democrats over the role fiscal responsibility should play in their agenda.
Likely 2020 contenders are currently proposing tens of trillions of dollars in new spending on health care, education, climate change and other progressive priorities. Given that Republicans passed a $1.9 trillion tax cut and boosted spending under Trump, some in the party argue Democrats shouldn’t let deficit concerns get in the way when they retake power. There’s also growing interest among activists in economic theories that put less stock in fears of a rising debt.
“It reinforces the notion that if you vote for Democrats, the first thing they’re going to do is prioritize budget outcomes over human ones,” Stephanie Kelton, a former adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has criticized the PAYGO rule told NBC News.
While many in the party have rallied around pricier proposals under Trump, the midterms also featured a slew of Democrats who ran successful campaigns in swing seats attacking Republicans for spilling too much red ink. Their priorities could come into tension as Democrats take on more power.
“Such new House Democrats are likely to find it much harder to vote for major policy advances that progressives strongly support if those measures would add significantly to deficits and debt,” Robert Greenstein, president of the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in a piece defending the PAYGO rules.
Activism against PAYGO has been driven by the party’s left flank, but Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who led a largely centrist coalition against Pelosi’s speakership, also announced his opposition Wednesday.
“Critical investments in education, infrastructure, and health care should not be held hostage to budgetary constraints that Republicans have never respected anyhow,” he said in a statement. “We all believe we need to ultimately bring our budget into balance, but these investments are too important right now to pass up and will yield significant returns for the U.S. Treasury.”
His spokesman Michael Zetts told NBC News told NBC News he is undecided on the overall rules package.
Pelosi earned a key endorsement ahead of the rules vote, however, from Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark, Pocan, D-Wisc. In a joint statement, they said they had been “concerned about PAYGO for months,” but were satisfied with commitments from House Democratic leaders not to let it get in the way of progressive legislation.
“With the assurances that PAYGO can be waived, we do plan to vote for the House rules package and proceed with legislation to fix the statute,” they said.
No deal Brexit: Is it TIME for no deal? Countdown ON until Brexit DEADLINE DAY?
AS MPs remain bitterly divided over Brexit and Theresa May warns an extended deadline will not “solve the situation”, is it time to consider a no deal? When does the UK leave the European Union?
Once again, MLK’s legacy is invoked to support issues he wouldn’t stand for
By Janell Ross
Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is eroded every year by the way Americans celebrate the slain civil rights icon, King scholars and experts on the nation’s civil rights history say.
Without fail, King, a minister and civil rights activist felled by an assassin’s bullet at the age of 39, is recast each year as a national hero in his own lifetime and as a champion of causes that he would not have supported, in the view of King scholars and, when they can agree, his children. In the process, America is often affirmed as a nation perpetually interested in justice and equality, even as the validity of modern day civil rights struggles are often called into question.
Chief among this year’s offenders was Vice President Mike Pence, according to Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history and director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center. One day before the 2019 MLK holiday, Pence told those watching the CBS Sunday morning politics show, “Face The Nation,” that Trump, in his battle over the border wall and the resulting partial government shutdown, is much like King.
“One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,’” Pence said Sunday. “You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union.’”
The comment prompted Kendi to tweet: “They “honor” MLK every year by assassinating who he was.”
“I think it is one thing to literally assassinate. To kill the body is a tragic thing,” Kendi said. “But to then double down and completely erase who that person was and what they truly stood for is just beyond cruel. It is extremely dangerous.”
To Kendi, Pence’s comments sounded like a willful effort to distort the truth, to transfer King’s status as one of the most admired Americans of all time, a man with an unwavering commitment to equality and justice, to Trump, a man who described white supremacists as “very fine people,” separated families at the border and referred to undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” To do so, many of King’s latter-day public admirers, like Pence, must shift the very meaning of justice and equity which King expressed during his lifetime.
Trump is a figure who can be more readily compared to Bull Connor, said Kendi, who wrote the 2016 National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” Connor, an Alabama politician and law enforcement official, ordered dogs and hoses turned on civil rights protesters. He was what Kendi called was a racist “bully,” determined to maintain a world where equity and justice did not exist. He was willing to use state power and violence to do so, Kendi said.
In the distorted telling of King’s life, even his death is different. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Monday, “Today we honor a great American who gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality. Our country is better thanks to his inspiration and sacrifice #MLKDay.” Twitter users quickly pointed out King was murdered by an assassin with a firearm, and lived with the threat of death for many years before it arrived; he was not gently delivered into a state of self-sacrifice which cleansed the nation of all its racial sins.
Also, this year, the National Rifle Association turned to Twitter to recast King — an avowed practitioner of nonviolent social resistance who renounced his own impulse to obtain a gun after his home was bombed — as an ally of limitless gun rights.
The NRA’s caption: “Today, the men and women of the honor the profound life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King applied for a concealed carry permit in a “may issue” state and was denied. We will never stop fighting for every law-abiding citizen right to self-defense. #MLKDay.”
Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College, said Pence’s remarks and other MLK Day remembrances are emblematic of a broader American phenomenon. There is a year-round American habit of stripping King of his radicalism, and altering him to fit or agree with a wide range of ideas in need of credibility or cover from allegations of bigotry.
Some attempt to co-opt and alter King to make their ideas seem courageous. And, there are constant efforts to evade just how many people, institutions and organizations actively and vociferously opposed his activism. A Harris poll conducted early in the final year of King’s life indicated 75 percent of the American public disapproved of King at that time.
“There is this national fable of the civil rights movement,” said Theoharis, who wrote the book, “A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History.” “Although it has been a struggle, a long and ongoing struggle, this idea that some things were wrong, King and [Rosa] Parks spoke up and we fixed it. That’s done.”
That simple story, one of a job complete, has become what Theoharis described as, “central to the ways that the United States talks about and thinks about itself.”
“It is not an episodic thing and it crosses party lines,” she said.
The mythical version of King, and Rosa Parks with him, makes it possible to overlook the “messy” and “disruptive” nature of the civil rights movement, how essential past civil rights activists found it to challenge police, elected officials and other parts of the American establishment. It makes a few misinterpreted lines in the “I Have a Dream” speech well known and King’s positions on poverty, war, economic inequality and consumerism as well as his belief that white moderates represented a deeply disappointing force in American life, less known.
Belief in the mythical version of King makes it easy, even logical, to criticize contemporary activists for doing precisely what King did or perceiving those actions as deviations from King’s tactics. Once that happens, pointing out contemporary injustice can become the problem, not the laws or officials involved. And talk of bridge-building and “oneness” becomes the expectation, Theoharis said.
Pence’s comments and so many other misguided efforts to honor King by remaking him, sometimes in the political lane of someone else with whom few scholars believe King would have agreed, strip King of the rare moral courage he demonstrated.
“These watered-down and distorted versions of the truth, avoiding the real King, the real Parks,” Theoharis said, “serves as a way to protect us in the present from having to do and face hard things.”
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