Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who announced a sweeping "Green New Deal" on Thursday that promises to render air travel obsolete, get rid of flatulent cows and ensure economic security for everyone in less than a decade, seemingly contradicted herself in a span of twelve hours on the nature of the government's role in the massive undertaking.
NPR host Steve Inskeep asked Ocasio-Cortez Thursday morning about concerns from conservatives that the 29-year-old former bartender's proposal involves an unconstitutional government overreach, as well as the unsustainable and dangerous elimination of huge swaths of the American economy.
"One reason that people who are politically conservative are skeptical of efforts to combat climate change is that it sounds to them like it requires massive government intervention, which they just don’t like," Inskeep asked. "Are you prepared to put on that table that, 'Yes actually they’re right, what this requires is massive government intervention?'"
Ocasio-Cortez responded: "It does, it does, yeah, I have no problem saying that. Why? Because we have tried their approach for 40 years. For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, 'We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate.' Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay, but taxpayers have to pay."
But later in the day, in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd, Ocasio-Cortez blamed conservatives for suggesting that she wanted a massive government program.
"I think one way that the right does try to mischaracterize, uh, what we're doing as though it's, like, some kind of massive government takeover," Ocasio-Cortez told Todd. "Obviously, it's not that, because what we're trying to do is release the investments from the federal government to mobilize those resources across the country."
Ocasio-Cortez, who has warned that climate change may end the world in 12 years, went on to decline to call herself a capitalist.
"I don't say that," Ocasio-Cortez responded, when asked by Todd if she considers herself a capitalist. "I believe in a democratic economy, but -- but the but is there."
In what may be the most far-reaching proposal to ever be considered in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the "Green New Deal" hours earlier -- a government-led overhaul of virtually every aspect of American life that would guarantee a host of taxpayer-covered benefits for all and phase out fossil fuels.
Along the way, her office says the plan would aim to make air travel obsolete, upgrade or replace every building in America to ensure energy efficiency and give economic security even to those "unwilling" to work.
“Today is the day that we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America,” she said alongside Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and other lawmakers outside the Capitol. “That’s what this agenda is all about.”
The plan, which calls for a massive package of big-government proposals including health care for all, quickly picked up the backing of major 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls including Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. -- who all co-sponsored the resolution.
“Our history is a testimony to the achievement of what some think is impossible — we must take bold action now,” Booker tweeted.
While the resolution itself would do very little because it is non-binding, it is the first time the policy proposal has been formally outlined in Congress. The resolution says “a new national social, industrial and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal” is an opportunity to tackle systemic injustices toward minority groups, create millions of high-wage jobs and “provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.”
Its proposals include “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;” job creation; infrastructure investment; guarantees of clean water, healthy food and sustainable environment; and a curiously undefined “access to nature.”
Beyond those broad proposals, the plan and accompanying documents from Ocasio-Cortez include a range of far-fetched goals -- and drew swift scorn from Republicans and other critics. The Republican National Committee dubbed it a "socialist wish list" that would kill at least 1 million jobs and disrupt global trade -- while costing trillions.
The resolution, for instance, includes a proposal to “upgrade all existing buildings” in the country in order to achieve energy efficiency, safety, affordability, durability and comfort.
An accompanying FAQ, released by Ocasio-Cortez’s office and first obtained by NPR, goes even further, calling to "upgrade or replace every building in the US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency." A second similar FAQ on her website echoed some of those prescriptions though was later removed.
The resolution also backs the concept of high-speed rail as a proposal to reduce carbon emissions -- but the FAQ goes so far as to urge that development “at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
It also promises “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”
What constitutes economic security is not clear, but the plan does call for programs including a federal job guarantee, universal health care and "affordable, safe, and adequate housing."
The FAQ also notes that it has set a goal of net-zero, rather than zero, emissions in 10 years “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”
As for how to pay for the Green New Deal?
"The same way we paid for the New Deal, the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs," Ocasio-Cortez's FAQ states. "The same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments and new public banks can be created to extend credit."
The FAQ continues: "There is also space for the government to take an equity stake in projects to get a return on investment. At the end of the day, this is an investment in our economy that should grow our wealth as a nation, so the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity."
However, the push is likely to see resistance not only from Republicans but even some Democrats. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was asked about the plan to replace planes with high-speed rail and did not seem impressed.
“That would be pretty hard for Hawaii,” she laughed.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to dismiss the plan.
“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi told Politico on Wednesday. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”
Even aside from the Green New Deal, conservative commentators have argued that most proposed solutions to global warming would do more harm than good, and also have accused climate activists of crying wolf. In 2006, a NASA scientist and leading global warming researcher declared that the world had only 10 years to avert a climate catastrophe -- a deadline that has come and gone.
Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.