The daughter of hardscrabble working-class parents, the 29-year-old New Yorker was working toward making good on a campaign promise.
"People are going to have to pay their fair share of taxes," she told CBS television's "60 Minutes," in excerpts released ahead of its Sunday broadcast.
The proposal is part of an ambitious tax plan dubbed the "Green New Deal" that aims to eliminate carbon emissions by 2030. The self-described Democratic Socialist nicknamed AOC suggested taxing the ultra-wealthy up to 70 percent in order to finance the plan.
"It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?" she asked.
To pay for the plan, Ocasio-Cortez floated the idea of tax rates as high as 70 percent on the ultra-rich.
She referred to the progressive taxation system that was in place in the 1960s before Ronald Reagan took office as president when the top earners paid 70 percent in taxes. That rate then gradually dropped.
"You look at our tax rates back in the 60s and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let's say, from zero to $75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, et cetera," Ocasio-Cortez said.
"But once you get to, like, the tippy tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate. But it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more."
The top marginal tax rate is now 37 percent, following President Donald Trump's fiscal reforms. It was previously at 39.6 percent.
Even though it has little chance of success, the proposal backed by the young lawmaker has already garnered significant support.
It landed her on the front page of the New York Daily News, an image of which Ocasio-Cortez was quick to retweet.
A Washington Post analysis found that if the approximately 16,000 Americans who earn more than $10 million each paid 70 percent income taxes for any revenue above that marker, the federal government would rake in around $72 billion per year.
But the sum would likely be much lower because individuals falling in that bracket would find ways to avoid the heavy tax burden.
In Opinion— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 6, 2019
Paul Krugman writes, "America used to have very high tax rates on the rich — higher even than those AOC is proposing — and did just fine. Since then tax rates have come way down, and if anything the economy has done less well." https://t.co/fxwlI44KIS
In a New York Times op-ed, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman backed Ocasio-Cortez, rejecting "the constant effort to portray her as flaky and ignorant."
"On the tax issue, she's just saying what good economists say," he added.
Undeterred by her youth
Ever since her surprise victory during Democratic primaries in June over Joseph Crowley, who had run unopposed for more than a decade and was seen as a contender to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives.
The victory has made her a key figure of the liberal wing of the party, and Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated more than once that she can respond swiftly to her detractors.
When Republican campaign consultant Ed Rollins called her a "little girl" on a conservative television talk show, Ocasio-Cortez shot back on Twitter: "If anything, this dude is a walking argument to tax misogyny at 100%."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being shamed by conservatives for dancing in a completely innocent music video during her college days.— James Kosur (@JamesKosur) January 4, 2019
This is what conservatives choose to focus on during a partial government shutdown, a trade war, and MANY other issues.https://t.co/jPDuAvByN0
On Friday, a video released online by a detractor showing a young Ocasio-Cortez dancing with fellow Boston University students to the Phoenix song "Lisztomania" in a remake of a mashup of scenes from the Brat Pack movies.
But rather than embarrass Ocasio-Cortez, the release ended up having the opposite of its intended effect.
I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 4, 2019
Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too! 💃🏽
Have a great weekend everyone :) pic.twitter.com/9y6ALOw4F6
The congresswoman, who has a strong social media presence, responded by posting a new video of her dancing in front of her office on Capitol Hill, writing: "I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!"
With her past as a New York bartender, Ocasio-Cortez is a figurehead of the new wave of young lawmakers who entered Congress after the midterm elections, bringing fresh perspectives and more diversity to the legislature.
Asked if she considers herself to be a radical, Ocasio-Cortez told CBS, "You know, if that's what radical means, call me a radical."
"I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country," she explained "Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on establishing programs like Social Security. That is radical."