During her time in Congress, does Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, want to serve as a workhorse or a show horse?
That conundrum lies at the heart of a series of questions I posed to her office last week regarding the tax code. The congresswoman famously (or infamously, depending on one’s point of view) wore a dress emblazoned with the words “Tax the Rich” to this year’s Met Gala last month, but would she actually follow through on that mantra when given an opportunity to do so?
Questions about Biden
Last Tuesday, I e-mailed Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director a request for comment on these three questions:
- The Tax Policy Center and a recent Congressional Research Service report have raised questions about the propriety of a loophole Joe and Jill Biden used from 2017-2020 to avoid nearly $517,000 in payroll taxes. Does the congresswoman plan to ask the IRS to review the Bidens’ pre-presidential returns (which CRS notes are not subject to automatic audit) to ensure the president paid his fair share in taxes?
- Given the congresswoman’s tweet that raising taxes on the rich could help to expand Medicare (among other things), what does she think of the Bidens’ failure to pay nearly $395,000 in Medicare taxes? Does she believe the president’s personal behavior is consistent with his stated commitment to expand Medicare?
- What would the congresswoman say to those who view the president’s use of this loophole to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll taxes—coming at the same time the Bidens spent $2.7 million on a beach house and rented a 12,000 square foot mansion in McLean—makes him a flawed messenger to call on others to “pay their fair share?”
I followed up with the communications director several times during the week and got no acknowledgment or response. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the combination of an unknown e-mail address and an incredibly frantic congressional schedule last week meant my messages got lost.
Lack of Follow-Through?
Another explanation seems equally plausible: The congresswoman and her staff don’t want to respond to a series of awkward questions from a writer with a conservative publication about whether she will hold the leader of her party accountable for his failure to “pay his fair share.”
And make no mistake, Ocasio-Cortez, and her colleagues, definitely could hold President Biden to account for failing to pay his Medicare and Obamacare taxes if they really wanted to do so. They could insist on including provisions requiring an audit of the Bidens’ taxes before they commit to voting for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending blowout.
Heck, they could probably demand that the Bidens pay back their unpaid taxes before voting to pass the legislation. After last week—when Biden meekly went along with House progressives’ demands to hold the Senate-passed infrastructure bill hostage to their multi-trillion-dollar spending binge—Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues have shown themselves perfectly willing to work leverage points.
Just threatening to vote against the bill because Biden didn’t “pay his fair share” would probably cause the president to pony up the cash, if for no other reason to halt the flood of embarrassing stories—about both Democratic disarray and his questionable tax practices—that would ensue. But would Ocasio-Cortez ever make such a threat in the first place?
Politics or Performance?
Therein lies the question for the congresswoman: Does she actually want to accomplish her stated policy objectives, or merely attract attention for her flamboyance?
“Saturday Night Live” satirized that tension this past weekend. In the opening segment of its season premiere, Melissa Villasenor as Ocasio-Cortez said, “I wore a dress that said ‘Tax the Rich’—then spent all night partying with the rich. Oops!”
In the days after the Met Gala, The New York Times ran a story about the contradictions raised by the incident. The Times interviewed one socialist activist who said Ocasio-Cortez and her “Squad” colleagues “are not leveraging their enormous base of support to demand the very thing she put on her dress.”
Likewise, the press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign said Ocasio-Cortez is “not really doing the kinds of things that could actually attract real backlash and struggle that some people anticipated she would, given how she styled herself coming in” to office.
For all the reasons noted above, Ocasio-Cortez absolutely could have an impact on the issue of Biden’s taxes, albeit not without courting some presidential backlash. And this far—whether from ignorance of the issue, or a desire to avoid that backlash—Ocasio-Cortez has failed to engage.
Different Generations, But the Same Philosophy?
If Ocasio-Cortez goes down the performative route and chooses to pull her punches because she doesn’t want to offend her colleagues, she would stand in good company. Recall that the man who named himself “Middle Class Joe” failed to pay his Medicare and Obamacare taxes because he considered renting this mansion a bigger priority:
Talking a good game but failing to back it up wouldn’t make Ocasio-Cortez any greater or lesser than her congressional colleagues. It would, however, make her just another Washington politician.