Mulhall column: Introducing your 116th House of Representatives
January 10, 2019
Last Thursday, Jan. 3, the 116th Congress of the United States split, with a Democrat majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate.
The Democrat's House majority arose from what some call the 2018 "blue wave," wherein Democratic candidates flipped 43 House seats to the Republicans' 3 for a 35-vote advantage.
One of the many Democrat victories occurred in New York's 14th Congressional District, which presently encompasses parts of the Bronx and north-central Queens.
A predominantly blue District since 1853, the real battle occurred in the Democrat primary, wherein Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated incumbent Democrat John Crowley by a decisive margin. The general election was largely pro forma, with Ocasio-Cortez clobbering her GOP opponent with a whopping 78 percent of votes.
At just 29, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress, a milestone to be sure. And, if you liked Bernie Sanders, you're going to love her.
A member of the Democrat Socialists of America (DSA), Ocasio-Cortez ran on a platform that included Medicare for all, fully funded public schools and universities, and housing as a human right, just to highlight a few.
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Having graduated cum laude from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in economics and international relations, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has become a reason to look forward to the 116th Congress.
Why? Simple really. It's not every day someone gets elected to Congress who makes Sarah Palin seem like a Mensa member.
Take Rep. Ocasio-Cortez' view on the unemployment rate, for one. You'd think a degree in economics from BU would make her prescient on the subject, yet she recently explained the low unemployment rate under the Trump administration thus:
"Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs."
The unemployment rate is such a simple formula that even I understand it:
(unemployed persons / labor force) * 100
Where "labor force" is the sum of both employed and unemployed people.
If you increase a dividend and keep the divisor static, the quotient decreases, sure enough, but that's not how the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines "labor force." If you work, you count as 1, whether you have one job or five.
Perhaps Rep. Ocasio-Cortez just wanted to underscore the fact some folks have to work hard to make ends meet, or maybe she was suggesting that in a strong economy people shouldn't need to work two jobs.
On the other hand, sometimes Occam's Razor applies.
If that weren't enough, consider Rep. Ocasio-Cortez' understanding of U.S. government. As a newly elected congresswoman, you'd think Rep. Ocasio-Cortez would be flush with civics knowledge.
Yet, in a video clip from last November, Ocasio-Cortez quips, "[We must] work our butts off to make sure that we take back all three chambers of Congress — er, rather, all three chambers of government: the presidency, the Senate, and the House."
In fairness, School House Rock was before her time.
Perhaps it's uncharitable to take Rep. Ocasio-Cortez' words at face value. After all, everyone misspeaks once in a while, right?
At least one other freshman congresswoman is a bit clearer in her word choice. For example, Rep. Rhashida Tlaib, a new Democrat from Michigan's 13th Congressional District (southwest Detroit), left no room for interpretation when she invoked an "MF" bomb shortly after being sworn into office.
This early peek at the House freshman class portends an interesting time during the next two years.
Maybe House freshmen like Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib won't eclipse Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee, but no doubt they will help make this Democrat-controlled House a regular bucket of chuckles.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com
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