News & Politics

On This One Issue, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Acting More Like a Republican

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., arrives for orientation for new members of Congress, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Democrats vocally support an increase in the minimum wage, but Republicans are far more likely to actually pay their interns in Congress. On this one issue, Democratic socialist golden girl Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is actually acting like a Republican. On Wednesday, her chief of staff confirmed that Ocasio-Cortez will pay interns a whopping $15/hour.

“[Saikat Chakrabarti] confirms [Ocasio-Cortez] will pay her interns ‘at least’ $15/hr,” the Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein tweeted. “A 2017 study found that only 8% of House Republicans and 4% (!) of House Ds pay their interns.”

Stein was actually rounding up when it came to House Democrats paying their interns. The activist group Pay Our Interns found that 8 percent of GOP interns in the House of Representatives received a paycheck, but only 3.6 percent of interns working for Democrats did so.

On the Senate side, the numbers proved far better, and Republicans again were more likely to pay. A full 51 percent of Republican senators offered paid internships, while only 31 percent of Democrats did.

Surviving in Washington, D.C. is tough. Rent is high, and even food is more expensive. While the federal government wastes a great deal of money, I think congressional staff actually need to be paid more, not less. As it stands, low wages only make it more tempting for a staffer to reject the Hill for a cushy lobbying job, but members of Congress really do need good staff, and they perform important functions.

I actually experienced the penny-pinching of congressional Democrats firsthand.

As a wide-eyed teen, I myself interned in the House of Representatives. At the time, I thought offices only hired interns from the district they represent, and I happened to run into Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on the House floor. My grandfather lived in his district, and I asked for a job, even though Engel was a Democrat. (My congresswoman also was a Democrat at the time, Diana DeGette.)

Even though I am (and always have been) a dyed-in-the wool conservative Republican, I naively thought that serving as an intern in Congress was public service and it didn’t matter if I worked for a Democrat. Boy, was I wrong.

I had to keep my mouth shut about what I personally believed, and I tried to voice the concerns of constituents who called to complain about problems with the legislation that became known as Obamacare. Even then, I knew it would cause a great deal of problems.

Luckily, there were plenty of Capitol tours to distract me from the politics of working undercover. I worked hard and actually enjoyed a great deal of my work. Like the other 96.4 percent of interns for House Democrats, I didn’t get paid for anything. Like many of my fellow interns, I was lucky enough to have my parents subsidizing my experience.

I disagree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on almost every issue. A mandated federal minimum wage of $15/hour would cause devastating effects to the economy — and it would make life harder for the very low-wage workers it is intended to help. But if Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to pay their interns for their work, I wholeheartedly support that.

You don’t have to be a Democratic socialist to support paying people for their work — as the Republicans offering paid internships know very well. Congressmen in both parties should voluntarily decide to pay all their staff, and Ocasio-Cortez is right to do so.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.