Nov 21, 2021
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) Build Back Better Infrastructure Bill Town Hall Transcript
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held a town hall to discuss what is included and not included in the Build Back Better infrastructure agenda. Read the transcript here.
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Michelle Luna: (03:15)
Good evening, New York-14. My name is Michelle Luna, and I’m a constituent liaison and field representative at the office of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. Thank you for joining our town hall. Just a few notes of housekeeping, if you are logged into the Zoom meeting, please use the Q&A feature to submit your questions. We prioritize questions from constituents, so please mention which neighborhood in New York-14 you are from.
Michelle Luna: (03:40)
Alternatively, you can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-662-5970. Our staff is also available to support with any technical difficulties. Our team members will be monitoring the inbox and phone. We are also live on YouTube, and broadcasting the town hall on Twitter spaces, so please feel free to visit our YouTube or Twitter pages for the live stream. CART open captions is being provided by All Hands in Motion. If you click the link in the chat, it will take you to a website where you can view the transcription.
Michelle Luna: (04:22)
For today’s town hall, we will hear from the representative about her work to advance the president’s agenda to Build Back Better by investing in our nation’s physical and social infrastructure. We will then open it up for Q&A from constituents. After the Q&A, there will be a press gaggle, where members of the press will be able to pose questions.
Michelle Luna: (04:46)
And now, I’d like to invite the representative from New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to give her remarks.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (05:00)
Oh, I was muted for a second.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (05:02)
Hello, everybody. I hope everyone’s doing well, and I hope you all are finding yourselves healthy and in good spirits, especially as we enter in the holiday season. We have Thanksgiving coming up, unbelievably. This year has gone by very quickly, but once again, I’m very excited to be joining you all for our monthly town hall. Without further ado, let’s just jump into it. Let’s get into it.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (05:32)
I want to talk a little bit about what some of our overall topics are going to be, discuss things a little bit. And yeah, and I think that’s kind of what we want to move forward on. I think, let me see. There were some edits. Okay, that’s fine. Let’s move ahead to our next slide. I think I may have… Sorry, I think we’re operating off of two different slide decks, so I’m not sure. Perhaps, Michelle, can you exit out of the current slide deck, and we’ll try a new one?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (06:05)
Anyways, let’s talk about what our overall topics are for this week. The first thing that we want to discuss is our trip, and my recent trip, along with the Speaker of the House, as well as, basically, the House climate delegation to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. And this was the UN Climate Summit. I want to give you all a quick report out about that. And I’d also like for us to discuss the bipartisan infrastructure vote and bill that happened last week and the upcoming Build Back Better vote.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (06:45)
Now, I think there was a bit of breaking news right before we decided to start this town hall. Just before we started, we have… I’m very excited to announce that the Speaker of the House has also just announced that we are going to have a vote on the Build Back Better Act, looks like tonight, which is a lot faster than some people thought was going to happen as of this morning. And that’s going to go a little bit into my comments today on the infrastructure bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (07:21)
First, let’s talk about COP26 with the UN Climate Summit. Now, with the UN Climate Summit, one of the things that we saw was, for folks who are following back home, is that we have a… Sorry, we have some folks dropping in and out real quick. With the UN Climate Summit, COP26 happened in Glasgow, Scotland. The UN Climate Summit happens yearly. So COP, there’s COP25, COP24, et cetera. Those are the ones that happened in previous years.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (07:58)
This year was COP26, and it was designated as one of the most critical COPs that we have had in many years, because we are very much reaching what is known as code red, and defined as code red by the IPCC report, this, which is a coalition of global scientists, et cetera, really monitoring global progress, or not on climate change.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (08:31)
And very recently, the IPCC report had issued a code red for humanity, basically saying, if we do not rein in climate emissions very quickly, we are endangering our prospects, and potentially blowing past the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, which could have, frankly, catastrophic and calamitous impacts on humanity.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (09:01)
And so this year’s UN Climate Summit really forced us to gather, the United States. This was the first time the United States had shown up in years. Last year, due to COVID, we did not have a full-on climate summit. And the year before that, under the Trump administration, there was no federal real executive representation at the UN Climate Summit. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, also brought a delegation back then, but the overall power of the US federal government was not truly represented from the executive branch. We also know that President Trump had withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, and we really weren’t firing on all cylinders when it came to climate. And so our presence at the UN Climate Summit was very critical this year in ensuring that we are really stepping up to our obligations. I’m grateful to have been part of the US delegation. And I want to give you all a bit of a readout on what happened there.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (10:12)
First of all, are we doing enough? I think what we’re seeing here is a mixed bag. Overall, are we doing enough to combat climate change and rein into 1.5? I am concerned that we are not. However, there is also the fact that this year’s COP26 represented certain areas of progress. The question that we have here is, “Yes, okay, progress is great. Any progress is something that we’ll take, but the fact of the matter is, is that we have a ticking clock, and if we don’t reach our goals, if we don’t progress fast enough before the clock runs out, there’s really no amount of spin that we can discuss about that.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (11:01)
And so, I think what we saw out of COP26, I think is a confirmation that, really, work on climate change is going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation. And yes, governments, and private companies, et cetera, can make their commitments, but it’s really going to take a lot of everyday mobilization of people, like you and I, to really speak up on these issues, because I think one of the things that we’re seeing is that a big part of what is hampering progress on climate is also a lot of what is hampering progress on pretty common sense issues across the board.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (11:44)
One is internal politics. It’s very difficult for the United States, or any other country to commit, globally and publicly, to certain moves on climate if our domestic politics are not allowing for that to happen. And so that, I think not only applies to United States, but it also applies to the political realities of other countries. And so the more grassroots mobilization and the more broad urgency there is on climate, the more that can transform our domestic politics, which will then allow the United States, internationally, to be able to commit internationally to greater action, and action that will keep us below 1.5 degree Celsius.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (12:27)
One of the issues that I’m very concerned about is that, unlike, oh, I don’t know, CBO scoring of like budgetary scoring, emissions math actually has… You can’t fudge that math. You are either emitting CO2, and you’re either emitting and contributing to climate change, or you’re not. But globally, there’s a lot of funny math that’s trying to be used. And so there’s a lot of fossil fuel corporations that are trying to… For a very long time, they tried to count methane, trying to say, “Hey, if we switch to natural gas and emit methane, then we’re drawing down CO2 emissions.” Well, yeah, you might be drawing down CO2 emissions, but that’s because you’re replacing them with methane, which is far more powerful and concentrated in contributing to global climate change.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (13:21)
Pros, I think that there is progress, and there was a lot of pressure on the United States, globally and internationally, and I think including after the conference, to actually start getting serious about climate change. But the cons are that we have a lot of work to do, and we can’t just rely on the plan. If we are just relying on the plans alone that come out of the UN Climate Summit, we’re not going to reach our goals. And so, we need to take those plans and we also need to add to them. That’s the long and short of it. I’m happy to answer more questions on the UN Climate Summit during our Q&A, but that’s the overall readout from that.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (14:04)
Now, secondly, there is the bipartisan infrastructure vote and bill that happened several weeks ago. Now, as many of you know, the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed. Those investments will now start flowing to communities across the United States. And as some of you also may know, I did not vote for it. Now, for some folks that may say, ” Why did you not vote for it?” or they may disagree with that outcome, let’s talk about it.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (14:37)
First, what you see on this slide here is what’s in the infrastructure bill, what just passed a couple of weeks ago. In this pie chart on the left, which is courtesy, I believe of The New York Times, you have the overall infrastructure proposal and needs in this country. You can see, the big green section is R&D and manufacturing investment, the big blue section is home and community-based care, clean energy tax credits, roads and bridges, electric vehicles, public transit. And we also have the red section, which is housing, schools and buildings. That is the overall Biden agenda for the infrastructure bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (15:31)
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t even the entirety of what we were pushing for. We were really trying to push for an even… What we really need, frankly, to meet the infrastructure needs in this country is an even bigger circle, where these investments are even larger. But, no matter, the original proposal that we have here is this circle on the left. This circle on the right with these little sections that are highlighted, roads and bridges, public transit, some power infrastructure, et cetera, those little chunks are what was passed in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (16:17)
When we talk about that infrastructure, what the money really went to primarily was some roads and bridges investment. That’s probably the single largest investment piece that we see right here. It’s in roads and bridges. You also have some modest investments in railways, in power infrastructure, some in water infrastructure, broadband, and some climate resiliency funding as well. This thing on the right is what passed last month.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (16:58)
Materially, what does that mean for us? And why would we not vote for it? There’s a couple of things here. One is that, originally, the plan is that we need to pass this whole thing on the right at once. Now, for folks who say, “Oh my gosh, this is unreasonable. You can’t have an all-or-nothing approach,” et cetera, the reason why we were saying that these two bills, that this whole pie chart on the right needs to be passed at once is because there is a very high political risk in terms of keeping our caucus together and being able to preserve the votes. There is a very high risk that there are certain conservative Democrats, like for example, Senator Manchin, who will take these chunks on the right and run, and leave behind all of the investment in childcare, healthcare, Medicare, home healthcare, NYCHA funding, housing funding, all of these things.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (18:19)
The thing that we had agreed to, not just me, and not just a handful of people, but as an entire party, is that we needed to pass this whole thing on the right together, because if we do not, then we will not have the mechanisms to keep these votes, to keep the support for the entire agenda together as well, and to make sure that they hold. Going back to the summer, you have Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, and some Republicans in the Senate draft their own bill, and that’s that bill on the right.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (19:06)
Now, what are the pros to the bipartisan infrastructure bill? Here are some pros. The pros are that it is the single largest bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Bridges are going to get a lot of love and a lot of historic investment. There’s also a good chunk here in public transit and passenger rail, which is also good.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (19:37)
We are looking at 65 billion for some communities to improve access to high-speed internet. And you also have, for example, some funding to clean up Superfund sites and other environmental hazards. These are all big top-line things, and you may have seen on the news a lot of people saying, “X billion for this, and X billion for that. And this is incredible. Look at all this money.” But as a legislator…
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (20:03)
This is incredible. Look at all this money. But as a legislator and as a lawmaker, as a policymaker accountable to our community, money next to a topic sounds great. But we also know that the devil is in the details. So what I’m very concerned about is us saying that this bill and telling communities and telling you at home, and what I refuse to do is to tell you that this bill is going to do something that it’s not going to do. And what I refuse to do is make a promise to this community that I know has not been fulfilled. And so you may have heard that this infrastructure bill is going to clean all the lead pipes in the United States of America. This is an issue that’s very critical in our community, especially because some of our schools have fountain and lead testing water that are sometimes, at some junctures, have tested 19 times higher than flint.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (21:07)
And so of course, those water lines have had to be cut, all of these things. So you may have heard that this bill will allow every single lead pipe in the United States of America to be replaced, and that is simply not true. That is not funded in this bill. That is not what is in this bill. In order to do that, we need $ 60 billion in order to replace and remediate all the lead pipes in the United States. This bill only finances $15 billion. And so people may say, “Oh, well that should be fine. You should run ahead with that.” Well, you have to ask the question, not just how much money is going to this thing, but what does that money actually buy you? And so $15 billion, when you need $60 billion to actually fix all the lead pipes in this country and to avoid poisoning our own communities, if you need 60 and you only get 15, what does that 15 actually buy you?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (22:19)
Well, you have two choices. You can either use that $15 billion, and what it can do would be… $15 billion can potentially buy you the ability to identify and assess all of the lead pipes in this country, but it won’t give you the ability to actually replace them. Or you go the other away and you just choose some places to have the privilege and the benefit of getting their lead pipes removed and you allow other communities to continue to be poisoned. And so we know that this is insufficient and we know that you can’t just throw arbitrary amounts of money to things. Let’s say hypothetically, if a bridge costs $10 billion to build or if a bridge costs $1 billion to build, if you only fund half of that, you can’t build half a bridge.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (23:25)
You’re essentially not reaching your goal. And so our goal with the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill, is that they have to be passed together because they are written not as two different bills, but they are written as a lock and a key. On the issue of climate, for example, the bipartisan infrastructure bill does virtually nothing on climate change. People may say, “Oh my gosh, but Congresswoman, it has investments in EVs and things like that.” Yes, it does. And again, I am supportive of the bill with the Build Back Better Act. However, without the Build Back Better Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone has a lot of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry. And in those giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, there’s all also privatization of public infrastructure in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (24:27)
This is something that President Trump was trying to do and wasn’t able to. And so there are negative aspects of the bill, but in policy making, there’s good, there’s bad, et cetera. But the goal for us to come out is for the positives to ideally outweigh the negatives. So in passing the Build Back Better Act, the Build Back Better Act unlocks the positives in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and also adds to the needs in our community. So for a very long time, it was promised to us by our leadership that if we give conservative Democrats this one thing, because this infrastructure bill is not structured to really invest or center communities like ours, this bipartisan infrastructure bill was not written with communities like ours as a priority, I want to be very clear about that. One example of that is that when you look at investment in overall transit, 80% of the dollars go to roads and bridges, and only 20% of those dollars actually go to public transit and rail combined.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (25:52)
So we have to make sure that we add on the Build Back Better Act. And so it was promised to us that those two bills would move forward together. And frankly, that promise was broken. My fear was that if we just allowed this thing to skate by, we would lose everything. All of those things on the left that you see, we were on a lock to pass all of it two Mondays ago. Two Mondays ago, we were set to pass all of it. And because there are certain folks, certain Democrats that, by the way, are not from swing seats. So this argument that, “Oh, these folks are in tough seats, you can’t do this,” some of these are New York Democrats, some of these are Hawaii Democrats.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (26:50)
Some of these are Democrats in very safe blue seats that have cast votes to tank prescription drug price reforms to help make prescription drugs more affordable, et cetera. We had all of this ready to go on that Monday, and then there was this insistence to strip all of this, what looks like practically 90%, and only pass these crumbs. And so what we needed, I believe, was an accountability mechanism to our party. And I take very seriously the fact that you all have asked me to not only hold Republicans accountable, but to ensure that we also hold the democratic party accountable for delivering on the promises that it routinely gives communities like ours on everything from jobs and investment and immigration and healthcare and climate and more.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (27:54)
And so what I felt was that the whole bargain, the whole reason this even happened in the first place is because the President made promises, these six quite conservative Democrats made promises, and House leadership made promises. And all of those promises, “We promise we’ll get to this for you,” is what allowed this fissure to happen in the first place. So when we break down the decision, if you are a person that feels, “Frankly, Congresswoman, I disagree. We should take whatever we can get, and we can always deal with something later.” If that’s how you feel and if that’s your position on this issue, then congratulations because you got what you wanted. The bipartisan infrastructure bill did pass alone. Now for transparency’s sake, the incoming that was coming into our office and the calls that you all were making were overwhelmingly in the other column.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (29:09)
So the calls that you all were making, as well as the official positions of important community organizations like Make The Road, The Working Families Party, Sierra Club, Indivisible, Center for American Progress, were unilaterally saying, ” Don’t do this because we were and are at a precipice of getting all of it and we should not sacrifice and we should not risk our ability to attain universal pre-K for everyone in the United States of America.” Essentially free childcare and capping prescription drug prices, making insulin cost no more than $35 a month, many other improvements on Medicare, all this other stuff, it is not worth sacrificing the 90% for the 10%. If anything, usually when we talk about compromise, you compromise 20% to get the 90%. So I believe that this was the best course of action for our community. Because for the individuals in our community who feel or felt that we should just take the 10% and run and accept it, then you got what you wanted.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (30:40)
The bill passed, and those funds are starting to flow early. But for those of us that feel like we should not sacrifice the bulk of the President’s agenda in order to appease a very small, narrow band of people, then we need to vote no in order to be able to hold all of those folks who made promises accountable because the promise was that the vote would happen this week. And so if they don’t hold the vote this week, our no votes and my no votes gives me the freedom and the ability to raise hell about it. And as I shared with you at the beginning of this town hall, we just got an announcement from the Speaker of the House that right down to the wire, we’re here at the end of the week, we are now scheduled to have that vote tonight. And we still have a road ahead of us because it’s still going to have to pass the Senate.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (31:50)
But I want to say that I believe with confidence that if we did not put those no votes on the board and raise the stakes to force the party to deliver on all of these IOUs, I don’t know if this vote would’ve happened tonight. I don’t know if this vote would happen tonight. The stakes were so raised that it really accelerated, and I believe created a lot of tension and heat and pressure to make sure that both of these bills pass as close in time as possible. So that’s the first reason why I think no was the right move here. The second reason why I think no was the right move was because the whole thing starts with the word bipartisan. That means Republicans and Democrats were supposed to vote for this bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (32:52)
My belief was that if House Democrats kept the entire caucus together, we would not have gotten the Republican votes for passage that we did at the level that we did if we just handed them all of our yes votes, despite being dissatisfied with the broken promise of both of these things being held together. And I know that this is true because when I was on the House floor, along with several others, and we delivered our six no votes, it forced Republicans who secretly wanted this bill to pass, but they also wanted to preserve their ability to trash it and vote no, but they also wanted some of the privatization pieces and other things in it that they were forced to show their hand. It was like classic Hold ’em, right? So these Republicans were for forced to vote for a bill that they were originally going to vote no on, actually making it substantively bipartisan in House passage.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (34:08)
And also had the added benefit of really making them angry. And frankly, the Republican caucus has been debating whether they should strip… They’ve been debating whether they should strip folks from committees, strip Republican members of their own committees for voting for this bill. That’s how angry they were at it. And so I believe that our no vote helped us hold the entire president’s agenda together without delay. I think it helped ensure that we protected universal pre-K and some of these other investments that you see here on the board, immigration topics, which I will dive into during the Q&A, the climate investments that actually make this package climate positive. And I cannot understate how important that is because the general assessment is that this is our one shot. We will not have another political bite at this apple to reduce emissions to this degree.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (35:21)
This is our one chance right now at this scale. And so it protected things on climate. It adds additional estimate for lead pipe removal to our community. Also, I have long been working extremely hard on making sure that we fully fund all of the NYCHA deficit that we have. So the boilers that go out in winter time, the lack of hot water, the awful, inhumane conditions in NYCHA, that’s all here. The funding to fix that is here in the Build Back Better Act and I could not go home and sacrifice it and say it didn’t happen. It’s do or do not. There is no try right now in our community. So sometimes we got to be a little bit sharp in our elbows, but I truly believe that our no votes accelerated this process.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (36:20)
It added pressure because if those promises were broken, it risked huge, I would think, really awful effects and implications for democratic law making. And so I believe our no votes helped us hold the party accountable. It helped us ensure that we got a speedy vote on the Build Back Better Act, and I also believe that it actually forced the bill to be much more bipartisan in the House than it was originally supposed to be. And again, if you disagree with that assessment, you got what you wanted anyway. And so I believe that it’s a win, win scenario. So as I mentioned, the speaker just announced right before this call that we’re about to have this vote on the Build Back Better Act tonight. And as I said, what’s currently in it, we have half a trillion dollars in climate investments, those additional investments for lead pipe removal.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (37:30)
These are all of the infrastructure investments that pertain to our community and affect our community. Almost the most are in this second bill. And so saving it was critical because my deep concern would be that if we only pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone, that the impact would not really be felt in our everyday life the way that it really needed to be. So that’s the good news. We also have from funds from the American Rescue Plan that we voted for earlier this year. We have $10 billion that went to the MTA for investments, which is really good and very much needed. Governor Hochul also announced that there will not be fare increases, and so we are making some progress. But this right here, this slide right here and this vote tonight, and this legislation with the Build Back Better Act, this is the head honcho here that we have to work very hard to protect, and if not, expand.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (38:50)
Lastly, I’ll do a quick note on immigration reform in the Build Back Better Act. Okay, so this is something that I’ve been working very, very closely with some of our advocacy communities and leaders at home in the district. I’m in D.C. right now because we’re about to vote on the bill. But our advocates were making very clear that what we want in the Build Back Better Act is an update of the registry, AKA path to citizenship, and to preserve path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act for millions of our neighbors and our friends and our family. Now in the House version of Build Back Better Act, there are some conservative Democrats that are insisting that we do not include path to citizenship in the House version, but that we include a provision that discusses what is known as a parole option. Our community has made very, very clear that parole is not good enough, and one of the reasons parole is not good enough is because-
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (40:03)
… is not good enough and one of the reasons parole is not good enough is because they have expressed that it is their belief that the president can do that with an executive order. And so when it comes to if we’re going to act on immigration legislatively, we need to open a path to citizenship. I, of course, am in agreement. So we are seeing challenges from conservative house Democrats in not wanting to include this, and I do not believe that it is currently in the house version that is getting voted on soon. However, the Senate has the ability to include this Senate side and if the Senate includes it and the votes are there in the Senate, I believe that we can win some of those conservative Democrats in opposition here in the house because the argument is, why should we support this and take this big political risk if Senator Manchin is going to kill the path to citizenship?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (41:03)
And so if the Senate can include it and successfully pass it, it’s much easier to win one vote than it is to try to get six to 10. And so if they believe that it can pass the Senate, I think that we might be able to include registry overall. But the key here is that if passage happens right now without the path to citizenship in the house version, we have to really mobilize and advocate for it to be included in the Senate version. And then if it’s included in the Senate version, the house and the Senate can conference and we can work overtime to make sure that it’s adopted. This is our shot, okay? This right here, everybody, this is our shot at a path to citizenship for millions of our undocumented neighbors and our frontline workers and our essential workers and everybody who has been contributing and paying more taxes than even Facebook or Amazon does and has been contributing members of our society to finally be recognized as equal in the eyes of the law.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (42:27)
And so now’s the time, now is go time. And once this passes the house tonight, that’s when it’s really game on to ensure Senate passage. So that’s the update there. Let me see. I think that’s pretty much it that we’ve got. We’ve got some general announcements, I believe, on the next slide. Okay. Yes. We are hiring for spring interns. As I mentioned, so it’s November 18th, today. So get your applications in if you want to intern with our office. We have internships both in district, in our Queens office, serving in our Bronx office as well, in our DC office. So our spring internships are open. Please apply if you’re interested.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (43:28)
Medicare and open enrollment for healthcare is open right now and it closes in two to three weeks. So please make sure that you pick your new healthcare plan. And healthcare.gov open enrollment started about two weeks ago and will continue until January 15th. Lastly, FEMA assistance for Hurricane Ida. It is closing on December 6th. So if you or your family or somebody you know was financially impacted by Hurricane Ida and you need or want to seek reimbursement for those damages, apply to the FEMA portal. If you need help to apply for the FEMA portal, please contact our office. But you can also just go straight to fema.gov and you can look at the open disaster declarations. There’s a Hurricane Ida one for our community, and you can start filling out your applications.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (44:32)
Another thing that we are hearing is that many people’s applications, initial applications to FEMA, were denied. Do not take no for an answer. If your initial FEMA application was denied and you want to appeal that decision, we have successfully helped people in our community appeal their FEMA decision and get a new one and get the reimbursements that they need. So if you haven’t yet applied for Hurricane Ida FEMA reimbursements, or if you were denied and want to appeal your decision, please do so either online or contact my office if you have any questions at all. This is really important. It’s extremely difficult if not impossible to do after the deadline closes in terms of applying for assistance. So get your money, okay? Get your money! We got it, we secured the FEMA authorization. So I want to make sure that you actually cash in. Aside from that, I think we’re opening it up for Q&A.
Michelle Luna: (45:40)
Thank you for your remarks Congresswoman. We will now move to the Q&A portion of our town hall. As I mentioned earlier, constituents signed on via the Zoom platform may use a Q&A feature to submit your questions. Please mention which neighborhood you are from as we prioritize questions from constituents. Also, a reminder to members of the press that after the Q&A, there will be a press gaggle where you will be able to pose questions. Our first question is from Gabriel Gudula from Astoria. With the Infrastructure Bill recently passing, I’d love for Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to address how specifically it will impact the people of New York 14. As we all know, improved transportation infrastructure is sorely needed in Queens, especially with our busing system as we have a lack of subway lines serving Queens neighborhoods.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (46:29)
Great. Well, it’s an excellent question and I want to thank you for it. Again, as I mentioned, it was my assessment that many of the investments in the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill were not particularly structured for equity. And as I mentioned, out of a hypothetical $100 allocated for transit or allocated for transportation infrastructure, 80 of those dollars go to roads and bridges and 20 of those dollars go to public transit and rail combined. So that means those are funds allocated for MTA plus Amtrak plus Metro-North and your six train, your seven train, et cetera.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (47:18)
We’re not getting a ton in the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to work with, but we are getting significant chunks. And so, as I mentioned, Governor Hochul had announced that it was her assessment that we would not need any fare increases thanks in part to some of the investments in the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, but the funding inequities are still baked into the passage of that bill that we’re going to have to address. I have brought this up to President Biden’s administration. I have flagged this and started this conversation with Secretary Buttigieg as well in saying, “Okay, listen, we have the investments. We have some of these investments in public transit. That’s great, but we have to actually ensure that they’re equitably allocated because how many of us have seen how beautiful and shiny and climate protected the subway systems are in affluent downtown Manhattan, but then also how underinvested they are in the Bronx and in some areas of Queens.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (48:35)
And so we need to make sure that if we’re investing in public transit, we’re not just doing it at the tourist stops and we’re not just doing it in showing up and glitzing up and protecting the Manhattan and more affluent subway stations, but that we’re actually investing in the stations and areas that need the most. As you mentioned, busways are very, very important to this as well. So we’re going to need the Build Back Better Act in order to really maximize the equity and investments on true public transit because high speed rail and Amtrak and all of these things are areas that I champion, but they are not substitutes. They are part of our system, but they’re not substitutes for the subway system. And so having the Build Back Better investment and this vote tonight and securing it and making sure that if I had to do hard, difficult things in order to accelerate the vote to tonight, I was willing to do that because the investments that you’re asking about are really championed here in the Build Back Better Act.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (49:55)
The Infrastructure Bill is also expected to provide some nominal funding to a really important priority on the Bronx half of the district, which is capping the South Bronx. And so the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, it’s got some funds for it but we really need to maximize our funding of it to actually get it done because like I said, if you fund half a bridge, you can’t just build half a bridge. You’re just not really going to get the bridge. And so we need to fully fund capping the South Bronx because you can’t just have the thing go off into an abyss or just have it be plans that get drafted and never realized.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (50:43)
Additionally, we’re also hopeful that some of this funding will go to extending the Second Avenue Subway line, new rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, improving handicapped, improving disabled accessibility to our subway system. I don’t need to tell you all how horrendous accessibility is on the New York City subway system. There are so many countless stations that don’t have wheelchair access, elevators, ramps. Anyone who’s tried to take a stroller around also knows how difficult this is. And so I’m sincerely hoping that a lot of those investments go to improving accessibility to our stations.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (51:33)
We also want to replace older school buses and further electrify some of the New York City fleet and also improve drainage in parts of our city. And that is so incredibly key and critical because as we saw with Hurricane Ida in places like East Elmhurst and Woodside, the flooding wasn’t just because it rained a lot. The flooding was because the drainage, our drainage systems, failed and backed up and because the drainage system stopped, that’s what really created a lot of the catastrophic flooding that we saw.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (52:10)
And so in terms of infrastructure investment, we really want to see that the Build Back Better funds and any other sort of infrastructure funds go to really helping drainage systems. And not even just in our community but sewers and drainage systems is kind of this mounting national infrastructure crisis issue. The key is that we need to fully fund it. And so I think it’s wonderful that some money was thrown to it, but this is also one of those problems that is just simply not going to be fixed if we have funding. And so we need to fully fund it. Next question.
Michelle Luna: (52:56)
The next question comes from Lisa W. From Astoria. What is the status of what’s being done about Congressman Gosar’s tweet and how did that affect you?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (53:06)
Okay. Lisa, thank you for the question. Yesterday, if some of you may have followed the news yesterday, I delivered a speech on the house floor regarding the censure of Congressman Paul Gosar. For those of you who may not know, Representative Gosar is an individual who fundraise and collaborates with white nationalist neo-Nazi organizations. He tweeted out a video depicting ending my life. In any other workplace, a person would be fired. In the United States Congress, the party leader, Kevin McCarthy, stands up and gives arousing defense as to why Gosar should be defended. Pretty sad, pretty depressing, but because we have a Democratic majority in the house and because this is so obviously inappropriate, we were able to keep that majority together.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (54:18)
We were joined by two Republicans in successfully censoring Representative Gosar. And so what that means is that he has not only been the first member censored in over a decade and I believe, I mean, it’s just a couple dozen, maybe 26 in US history that have been censored, but also he’s been removed from both of his house committees. Now, Republican leader McCarthy has made very clear that… He very much alluded to retaliation if Republicans take over the majority. And so that may mean that in order to exact revenge on consequences for his white nationalist member, he may strip Democrats from their committees as well.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (55:21)
And so it’s unfortunate, but frankly Republicans have made very, very clear over several statements that if they win a house majority, they intend to take over the chamber in a very authoritarian manner. And so, frankly, whether we passed the censure of Representative Gosar or not, he had already indicated that he was going to do this anyway. And so it is unjust, it is wrong, but if they decide to strip me from committee or strip any other member of their committee in any coming terms should they take a majority, this was something that they were very calculated in planning anyway.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (56:04)
We would hope that they neither get a house majority nor take that term, but they have indicated that should they get a majority, that is their plan. But as I mentioned, we should not not do the right thing out of fear of people wanting to do the wrong thing. The way that we actually have and maintain rule of law and general order in our society is for there to be consequences when someone does something wrong. And when we start to make exemptions to those consequences because of politics, then we really start to see an erosion of our institutions on a level that should not be accepted.
Michelle Luna: (56:58)
Thank you. Our last question comes from Michael Gabby from College Point. My question is, what is Congress doing to support Social Security and Medicare? I see we are distributing money to immigrants and people out of work but nothing to help or increase Social Security and Medicare coverage. Unlike most entitlements, this one was earned by the sweat of the workers. Please let our party lead in helping the Social Security population who worked, volunteered and served in our nation’s defense.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (57:27)
Thank you, Michael, for your question. I really appreciate it. I would start off by saying, first of all, I very much agree with you on the point of expansion of Social Security and Medicare and there are some key areas in the Build Back Better Act that address that that I’ll get into. But I do want to say that the idea that unemployment benefits or relief for immigrants are unearned or are not contributed to by working people, I would just invite all of us to reassess that frame and to rethink that frame because first of all, unemployment benefits, we all pay into them. We pay into them when we are employed.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (58:13)
And if any one of us falls into hard times, which I think we all learned during the pandemic can happen at the drop of a dime very unexpectedly, we want to ensure that the systems that we paid into when we were working can also pay us back. And a similar notion I would argue goes to our undocumented neighbors because they pay taxes. Our undocumented community pays billions and billions of dollars in federal taxes every year and sees virtually none of it back. They fund our school systems. Our undocumented community does a lot, including contributing in taxes to systems like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, et cetera.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (59:02)
That being said, let’s get to the heart of your question. What are we doing about it? I helped introduce, just before heading to Glasgow about two or three weeks ago, I worked with Congressman Bill Larson in introducing the Social Security 2100 Act. And what it does is that it protects benefits and it protects proposed cuts to Social Security as well as expanding the benefits available to people in Social Security. So we introduced that bill just about two weeks ago because this… I mean, there’s many, many other provisions in it. It helps young people because if you’re not a retiree, a lot of people may not know until they sadly come into a situation where they are entitled to Social Security benefits. But if you have a disability, if you become disabled, it…
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:00:03)
… benefits. But if you have a disability, if you become disabled, if you lose a parent or a spouse, social security benefits are there for you too. And so it’s very important that we not only protect them, but we need to expand them because they are not catching up to cost of living.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:00:19)
And the whole point of social security is to protect and respect and honor our seniors and our elders for all of the contributions that they have made, and to support dignified life for vulnerable families and communities such as widowed communities, widowed families. My own family benefited from social security when my dad passed away when I was a teenager, and it was a huge help in helping us put food on the table at one of the most vulnerable times of our lives.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:00:57)
Also if you come into a disability, no one plans on getting into an accident or getting diagnosed with a disabling condition, but it can happen to any of us at any time. And so the expansion of social security is extremely, extremely important and something that we’re fighting for.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:01:26)
On Medicare, what we see is that, in the Build Back Better Act, there’s currently a provision to expand Medicare to cover hearing. We have also tried include vision and dental, but Senator Manchin has been opposed in the Senate to include the expansion of Medicare to cover vision and dental benefits. But we have protected hearing benefits to be added to Medicare.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:02:04)
Overall, when I was talking about what we wanted to fight for, that was bigger than that pie chart, we wanted to lower the age of eligibility of Medicare down to 50. And my preference is to lower the age to zero so that anybody can access Medicare. And also I think that allowing young people to buy into Medicare shores up and the costs of Medicare for our more vulnerable people, I would love to have Medicare. I have to get mine on the exchange. So that’s how congressional healthcare works. People think we have covered healthcare, we do not. But those are our current priorities on Medicare. And I think that wraps up our last question.
Michelle Luna: (01:02:59)
Thank you so much. So we actually have time for one more question.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:03:02)
Michelle Luna: (01:03:03)
So this question is from William, from Jackson Heights. And their question is: I am a frontline healthcare worker with DACA, even with DACA I am unable to apply to jobs that require citizenship. I’m unable to travel internationally and I am at risk of deportation with any unfriendly administration. With all due respect, it appears that history has repeated itself with the Biden administration and that immigration reform, especially a pathway for citizenship has once again become a forgotten priority. What are you personally doing to ensure that immigrants are not forgotten?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:03:37)
Yes. So thank you very, very much. This is such a critical and crucial question. As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, we are working on passage of the Build Back Better Act tonight. It has some benefits like this idea of parole with benefits, but we also know that that level and that relief has been outright rejected by our community, and we need the full path to citizenship.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:04:04)
So what I want to communicate is that the road to getting this done is still there. We need to fight for inclusion on the Senate side. I believe that if we get this passed on the Senate side, then we can get it passed on the House side. I think that there’s a chicken and egg political situation, where if people don’t think it’s going to pass on the Senate side, then they won’t vote for it on the House side, because it represents a political risk in certain communities.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:04:37)
However, if those folks, if some of these communities feel like we actually can pass it in the Senate, I think we can make the case, and I think we can win the argument on opening a path to citizenship in the House. But what the House needs is for the Senate to confirm that they will actually do this. Because what people don’t want to do is send provisions and just vote on things willy-nilly that will not make passage. And so I think with passage of Build Back Better tonight, we need to add that pressure to the Senate.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:05:23)
What am I willing to do? Well, first of all, I’ve been fighting for inclusion of registry on the House side this entire time, but I also plan on authoring and building a coalition to release a letter, really amping up the pressure for this to be included in the Senate version of this bill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:05:48)
It’s really, really important that we get this in Senate side. And if we can get it in Senate side, then I think we can get you relief, but it’s going to take a huge amount of advocacy and grassroots organizing.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:06:05)
Now don’t take that in a discouraging way, because the good news is that our community has been delivering that historic grassroots organizing and presence. And so our organizations here at home, like [Adicar 01:06:22], and [Nice 01:06:25], and Make the Road, et cetera, have been organizing actions, both at home and in DC. And it really has been very effective in keeping the issue front and center legislatively. But all of that is to say, is that when this vote happens tonight, we can’t let up on that. And we have to make sure that we continue these actions because they are having a positive effect on the chances of it.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:06:54)
But the specific ask right now, if we want to open the path to citizenship, the word is registry, registry, registry. What that means is folks may know that back in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan said any person that was undocumented that came before, I believe the year was 1986, he provided essentially a path to citizenship, documentation, full citizenship.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:07:34)
Now, the proposal is to just simply take that registry date of 1986, and to update it to 2010. That’s, I believe, the current date that the compromise is at. And basically anyone who arrived before that date will have access to a path to citizenship. But that term is called, “The registry.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:07:59)
And so the reason I want to give you all that keyword is because immigration reform can be anything. It can mean anything from the most disappointing two crumbs, to opening an entire new, positive future for our community and our families.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:08:19)
And so the word for the good outcome is registry. And so if you want to ask for a registry, and if you’re talking to a federal office and they try to say, “We can’t do registry, we need less than registry,” registry is what we’re fighting for. We get registry, and we win past to citizenship for millions of people.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:08:42)
So the word is, “Registry,” in your advocacy calls and in your letters, et cetera. And they matter, they really, really do matter. So those are our next steps forward. I’m going to be advocating for inclusion of registry Senate side, but we also need your advocacy and reiteration that we need to fight for at Senate aside as well.
Michelle Luna: (01:09:07)
Thank you so much, Congresswoman. Thank you so much to our constituents for asking questions. You can always contact our office by calling 718-662-5970.
Michelle Luna: (01:09:23)
Now moving on to the press gaggle, if you are a reporter and would like to ask a question, please click the Q& A icon at the bottom of the screen and state your name and outlet in the question field. Reporters who are selected will be unmuted so they can ask their question to the member directly.
Michelle Luna: (01:09:50)
In just a few moments, let’s give the reporters a few minutes. Michelle Price AP.
Michelle Price: (01:10:02)
Michelle Price: (01:10:07)
This is Michelle Price with AP in New York. I’m wondering if you have any updates on the situation at Rikers island, if there’s anything that the Biden administration has said that they might do to intervene there, knowing that we have the corrections officers vaccine mandate is supposed to kicking in less than two weeks, and the percentage of the officers there who are vaccinated has not really risen very much in the last couple weeks?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:10:33)
Yeah, so I sit on the Congressional House Oversight Committee, so Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and as we also know that representative Carolyn Maloney is the chairwoman of that committee.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:10:53)
So we have been working very hard to try to advocate as much as we can, given that there is a city and state nexus on this issue. So we want to the jurisdiction that we have, respect those lines of jurisdiction. And there are also real limitations to what we can and cannot do with jurisdiction issues.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:11:19)
But that being said, we’ve been working very hard to figure out what some of these areas are for oversight, including any potential investigations. And so I know that the chairwoman’s staff on the Oversight Committee has been currently investigating some of those areas. And we’re kind of waiting back to hear what some of those avenues may be. So I don’t want to kind of over commit to certain actions because I think they’re just kind of reviewing for, I think, jurisdiction and privilege.
Michelle Luna: (01:11:59)
And then finally, Kevin Frey, New York One.
Kevin Frey: (01:12:06)
Hey, Congresswoman, how are you?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:12:07)
Well, how are you?
Kevin Frey: (01:12:09)
Not bad, not bad. Wondering what your thought is, I know we’ve talked before about SALT, but now there are these kind of competing ideas, one in Senate that Senator Sanders and Menendez are putting forward. And then obviously the $80,000 cap that’s being talked about on the House side. Do you favor one over the other? And where do you land on all of that?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:12:30)
Well, I think 80,000 is too high, that’s for sure. Now I know that SALT is an issue that is very deeply impacting a lot of families in New York, and we want to be able to deliver relief for working and middle class families that are impacted by SALT.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:12:51)
That being said, working and middle class families, aren’t taking $80,000 in SALT tax deductions. An $80,000 SALT tax deduction, I think gets us around people who are near 2 million in income, if I have those numbers correctly.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:13:15)
And so what I think is really important is that we want to, I believe that we should raise the SALT cap to cover a lot of our families that have been hit hard by the erasure of that deduction without giving the wealthy a tax cut. And so right now the 80K level is a very, very, very high tax deduction.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:13:48)
And again, that gets to people in incomes that are in the millions of dollars. So do I believe that families with combined incomes that are middle class and upper middle class that are really getting squeezed by SALT should get covered and should get relief? Absolutely. But do I think millionaires should get it? That’s where I kind of have some questions.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:14:10)
Now, the other side of the argument is that we also have some folks in the delegation that say, “Hey, lift SALT, give a federal tax cut to millionaires, because then you will allow the state to tax them at a higher level.” I think that’s an argument, but there’s also this argument that everyone is leaving for Florida and that all the billionaires are leaving New York, but the data just shows that that’s simply not true.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:14:45)
The number of billionaires in New York State has precipitously increased throughout the pandemic. The SALT deduction targets millionaires, gives a tax break to millionaires. I think that that is something that… I mean, I don’t necessarily agree with that.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:15:01)
So the Sanders-Menendez proposal is to say, if you make less than half a million dollars per year, 500K, then you are eligible for SALT deductions. I believe it’s a phase out. So it starts at 400,000 and then you can continue to deduct SALT taxes until you get to incomes of about half a million per year.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:15:28)
I think that that is a fine proposal because I believe that our working and upper middle class families, I think that pretty generously covers the bulk of them, half a million per year, I think that’s pretty good. So I think that’s kind of where I’m at with SALT.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:15:52)
As I’ve indicated this entire time, I am open to SALT reforms; I just don’t think that we should be giving tax cuts to the rich.
Michelle Luna: (01:16:02)
Thank you Congresswoman. Thank you so much to our constituents for joining us. Your engagement is what allows us to continue to fight for you in Congress. I also want to thank our transcribers, [Kara Kamachou 01:16:13] and [Wendy Beur 01:16:14]. Thank you to our interpreters, [Jayna Owen 01:16:15], [Debbie Olson 01:16:16], [Aldo Resindeez 01:16:18], [Edward Lao 01:16:19], [Ruben Martinez 01:16:21], [Roshon Ara 01:16:22], [Yukib Allie 01:16:22], and [Meg O’Lama 01:16:24].
Michelle Luna: (01:16:24)
Again, you can always contact our office by calling 718-662-5970. Have a good evening, everyone.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: (01:16:33)
Thank you everybody.