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ANALYSIS: Would Things Be Any Different If AOC Were President?

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Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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President Joe Biden lacked the prominent ideological commitments of many of his primary challengers during the 2020 election cycle. Now that he’s in office, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party keeps winning out.

Much has been said of the disagreements that have emerged in the Republican Party since the 2020 election, leaving far less attention for the fault lines being revealed on the other side of the aisle. In most cases so far, the moderate wing of the Democratic party led by the likes of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has been overruled by the progressives led by figures like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Many of these divergences of opinion were put onto the back burner for the last five years due to the perceived existential threat posed by former President Donald Trump. Trump was the glue that held the Democratic Party together after the testy primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016. While those across the left may have disagreed on anything from healthcare policy to immigration, they could unite in opposition to the president who shockingly defeated their flag-bearer, Clinton.

That’s why Biden was able to campaign in 2020 without making specific ideological commitments to any faction of his party. He touted his experience working under Obama, a popular figure with Democrats’ diverse coalition and younger, non-white voters. He stressed his moderate record compared to the new progressive faction to maintain his support with older Democrats. He also embraced enough progressive ideals to win enough left-wing Democrats to get over the top.

The only constant in Biden’s campaign was that he wasn’t Trump. That worked, because it was the only constant in the Democratic Party as a whole for four years: They hated Trump, and wanted to vote for someone who was the antithesis of the bad orange man.

Now that Trump is out of office, out of sight and out of mind for most Americans, the burden is on Biden and the Democrats to set an agenda. With no clear program coming into office, Biden is forced to duke it out with the progressive wing of his party on where to take the country next. So far, Ocasio-Cortez and her cohorts are winning more often than not. (RELATED: ANALYSIS: Joe Biden Is Trying To Remake The US Without A Mandate)

The most obvious example is in the massive government spending packages that have been proposed by Biden so far. Roughly $6 trillion in government spending has been put forward in Biden’s three landmark legislative items since taking office: the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.

Biden’s three-part “Build Back Better” agenda features a laundry list of policies pushed by the likes of Sanders, Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and “The Squad.” The American Families Plan includes universal Pre-K, government-subsidized parental and medical leave and free community college.

The American Rescue Plan dedicated hundreds of billions of dollars to bailing out state governments. Biden’s administration also made a push for a $15 per hour national minimum wage, although it was ultimately killed by moderate Senate Democrats.

Biden has also made it known he wants to raise taxes, particularly on the wealthy. That was arguably the number one priority stressed by progressives like Sanders and Warren in the 2020 cycle. Republicans have drawn a red line for any legislation that would require undoing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by Trump.

On climate, Biden has checked every box asked of him by Ocasio-Cortez and Co. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accords almost immediately after taking office. He canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline, doing away with thousands of blue-collar jobs in middle-America based on shoddy-at-best evidence that it would help the environment. He also placed a 60-day moratorium on the granting of new oil and gas drilling permits on federal lands, despite promising not to outlaw fracking while he was on the campaign trail. (RELATED: Is The Keystone XL Pipeline Actually Bad For The Environment?)

Biden’s immigration policy was simply to undo as much of what Trump did as possible, resulting in the floodgates being opened at the southern border. This is perfectly in line with the policies of “The Squad,” who have struggled to draw any line on immigration that they would not cross. Ocasio-Cortez and some other progressives did criticize the Biden administration for detaining unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally, but it was far less harsh than the ire they directed at Trump for the same policy.

There are some issues where the moderate wing of the party has scored victories. Biden remained steadfast in his support for Israel during the recent fighting between the American ally and militants in Gaza, despite accusations from some in his party that Israel is an apartheid state that should no longer be supported with aid by the U.S. (RELATED: As Slew Of Progressives Push Back Against Israel, Biden Declares That His Party ‘Still Supports’ Country)

Biden also delayed Trump’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, granting more time for moderate opponents of the move to ramp up opposition. Domestically, his trillions of dollars in spending didn’t feature $2,000 stimulus checks. Instead, he sent out $1,400 checks that, combined with Trump’s $600 checks, added up to $2,000 of total stimulus. Progressives called this a broken promise.

The wins for the Manchins and Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinemas of the world have been few and far between though. Despite keeping the filibuster in place and holding the keys to the 50-vote threshold, those centrists within the party have failed to stop the leftward drift of the Biden administration.