The two Democratic U.S. House members from Maine continue to have divergent positions on one of the most important decisions they will face during this Congress: whether to support the heart of the agenda from President Biden, a social services and climate change plan that has become a flashpoint between the centrist and progressive wings.
Representative Jared Golden, whose 2nd District voters voted for Donald Trump by 7 points last November, reiterated that he would vote against the $ 3.5 trillion bill that came out of the budget committee. House on September 25 due to concerns about its cost and escalating. He said he was pressuring his colleagues and the White House to make the bill lighter and better targeted to the needs of working families.
“I think we are still a long way from a final bill, but talks are moving forward,” Golden said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “I will need to see what is in any final agreement, including the text of the bill, before making a decision. “
Representative Chellie Pingree, whose 1st District voters picked Biden by a 23-point margin, said the package had her full support, although it wasn’t written exactly the way she wanted it to be.
“I never had the opportunity in my years in Congress to get everything I absolutely wanted out of every bill, and that is part of the art of compromise,” she said. during a telephone interview. “We’re all a mix of different interests when it comes to a big bill like this and what we’re trying to do now is merge them all together.”
The Press Herald interviewed the two House members to better understand how they arrived at different positions on the president’s signature legislative package, the failure of which would likely hurt his presidency and the Democrats’ ability to retain one or both. Chambers of Congress next November. midterm elections.
The bill as drafted would represent the largest expansion of the country’s safety net since the mid-1960s, expanding Medicare to include hearing, vision and dental benefits, and making the costs free preschool and two years of community college, while investing to fight climate change and falling prescription drug prices. It was to be paid for by increasing taxes on corporations, the rich and the great inheritances.
But the package is drastically reduced in frenzied negotiations underway between more liberal Democrats and conservatives like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Community college tuition was reportedly cut this week, for example.
It is often referred to as the “reconciliation bill” because Democrats intend to avoid Republican obstruction in the Senate by using a process called reconciliation, but the fifty Democratic senators in the equally divided chamber must support the process. procedure. Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent member of the Democratic caucus, is expected to support the measure, while Republican Senator Susan Collins is expected to oppose it.
In the House, Democrats can only afford to lose three votes, so each member has some influence over the leadership.
The two Maine MPs described very different approaches to assessing the bill. Pingree noted that the $ 3.5 trillion package – officially known as Build Back Better – is the result of sometimes messy compromises between members and interest groups, just as most major legislative programs are. by their very nature.
“If I could write this bill myself, there would be a lot more investment in the environment, renewables, forestry and agriculture, but I understand that some things will be removed and others. will be written in a language that I don’t like, ”she said. noted. “We are negotiating a bill that will apply to urban and rural areas, North and South, different types of communities. It’s a huge task to do that with these big bills.
Golden, on the other hand, said he had looked at every element of the 2,400-page bill, looking for ways to improve or streamline its content.
“The top cost numbers are not the main factor for me as a pivotal point on how I would vote, but I am looking at some factors that some choose to ignore,” Golden said in a telephone interview. “One is that we’ve had $ 6 trillion in deficit spending since March 2020 on top of our annual government appropriations – that’s a lot of money. And inflation is real and is proving to be a little more sustained than was said to be. More spending, he argues, could worsen inflation, hurting the wallets of his constituents.
But he said he was primarily concerned with including measures he saw as less urgent – a free community college and granting subsidies to affluent electric vehicle buyers – and others that are currently being written from. way to pour money on the upper middle class and the rich. , not just those who need help. He cited the eligibility requirements for the proposed child care and childcare tax credits as examples of these.
“We should probably seek to identify the top priorities based on what we think are the biggest challenges for the nation as a whole and focus on doing them and doing them well and paying for them for a longer period,” he said. he declared. . “The focus should be on need and eligibility and on the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”
Golden also opposes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi linking the fate of the bill to that of a bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill he helped negotiate .
Ross Baker, a prominent political science professor at Rutgers University who follows Maine politics, said the difference in representatives’ approach mirrors that of the two districts.
“Pingree is certainly in the lineage of most of the progressives and she is a Pelosi person, so she will follow the leadership of the party. But Golden is in a very different political position in the 2nd arrondissement and has to walk a pretty fine line, ”he said. “The fact that he is examining this bill under a microscope and making decisions on the basic elements of it is quite understandable, because in a bill of several hundred pages, there are things for which if he is not careful he could end up voting which could hurt him. “
“It doesn’t give him leadership, but they understand and will let go because they need this seat to occupy the House,” Baker added.
Alan Wiseman, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, agreed that the differences between the two House members paralleled the differences between their constituents. But he noted that they have both been effective as legislators, under a rating system he helped design that examines members’ ability to advance legislation, by monitoring their seniority, which they are in the majority or occupy managerial positions.
“When you look at their different styles, it could be a function of experience, as Pingree has been in the House longer than Golden and appreciates the different ways the legislation changes during markup, committee, etc.,” he said. declared Wiseman. “But frankly, it may come down to the fact that their approaches to Build Back Better simply reflect the difference in their political outlook, which fits quite well with the areas they represent.”
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