LEWISTON – Rep. Jared Golden has been causing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi some headaches of late, and he’s not apologetic.

The second-term congressman – who had more crossover support from Trump voters in the 2020 election than any other member of his caucus – joined eight other centrist Democrats to throw a wrench into her strategy to get President Biden’s ambitious $3.5 trillion social policy spending and budget plan passed on the narrowest of majorities. This forced a compromise that allowed the budget to advance on a narrow margin Tuesday but with storm clouds ahead as tensions build between the 100-member progressive caucus – which includes Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree – and the centrist camp.

Pelosi’s original plan was to schedule a vote on the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which had already passed the Senate, after the social policy and budget package was approved via the reconciliation process, a maneuver that would circumvent a Republican filibuster but require every Democratic senator and almost every Democrat in the House to pass. In effect, the strategy was to use the infrastructure bill as leverage to get centrist Democrats to support the larger, more divisive budget bill.

But on Aug. 12 Golden and eight colleagues informed Pelosi they would not consider voting in support of a budget resolution – the first step in passing the $3.5 trillion package – until after passage of the infrastructure bill. A compromise agreement surfaced Tuesday whereby the House adopted a rule requiring the infrastructure bill be voted on no later than Sept. 27, regardless of the progress of the budget. The budget resolution then passed 220 to 212, but leaders of the progressive caucus are already threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill next month unless the budget reconciliation package has already passed.

“It’s not that they think they need to hold the infrastructure bill hostage to ensure (the budget plan) will pass – they want to hold it hostage to ensure that they get every dollar they want,” Golden said of his party’s leadership in an interview at his Lewiston office Friday. “The Biden agenda can move forward without hostage taking, but people are going to have to negotiate.”

(In a written statement Tuesday afternoon, Golden said he backed the Sept. 27 compromise, calling it “a solid deal that ensures the bipartisan infrastructure legislation will move forward on its own.”)

Golden, who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd District, has bucked his caucus in a number of high-profile votes since being elected to Congress in 2018: on Donald Trump’s first impeachment, the George Floyd police reform bill, the closure of gun background check loopholes, the COVID-19 relief bill and Pelosi’s candidacy as House Speaker. His positions have frustrated progressives but didn’t hurt him with his constituents, who sent him back to Congress by 9 points last November, even as they supported Trump’s unsuccessful re-election bid by 7.

His latest defection has drawn considerable ire because, unlike his other votes, it could prove decisive, possibly scuttling a bill containing the core of Biden’s presidential agenda. If passed, the $3.5 trillion package would represent the most significant expansion of the nation’s safety net since the mid-1960s, expanding Medicare to include hearing, vision and dental benefits, and making preschool and two years of community college tuition free, while making investments to fight climate change and lower prescription drug prices. It would be paid for through increased taxes on corporations, the wealthy and large inheritances.

Golden and his colleagues have drawn criticism from liberal voices for tripping up the Democrats’ strategy, with Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent dubbing them the “Sabotage Squad.” The New York Times’ opinion writer Jamelle Bouie assessed the political situation thusly Tuesday: “Democrats will probably lose the House. They may well lose the Senate. This might be the last Democratic ‘trifecta’ for 10 years or more, given partisan gerrymandering in one chamber and the Republican Party’s structural advantage in the other,” Bouie wrote. “The best play, then, is to go all out: to stop the games and pass as much of Biden’s agenda as possible.”

Golden says his biggest problem with the budget bill was Pelosi linking its fate with that of the infrastructure bill, a bipartisan package negotiated by House and Senate centrists from both parties that represents the largest investment in the nation’s highways, bridges, trains and internet in decades. Endangering this hard-fought package, he says, is bad policy (because the country needs it) and politics (because its failure would play into the hands of Republicans eager to recapture control of Congress.)

But he said he also is opposed to the budget package itself at its current size, which he says tries to do too many things without fully funding them. (He supported Tuesday’s compromise to advance the budget process and guarantee an infrastructure vote next month, but the final vote comes later, once congressional committees fill in the details of the spending plan.)

“I think we should be thinking about doing less than what is proposed but do it well and pay for it throughout the 10-year budget window,” he said, adding that many measures in the plan appear to have funding measures locked in for only two or three years. “I think we should have a negotiation about what the nation needs, what will have the greatest impact on people’s lives and the economy.

“Is that the child tax credit? Great. Let’s pay for it for 10 years. What will that cost? $450 billion. Great, is there anything else we agree on?” he said. He also said he thought it prudent to keep resources in reserve in case, for instance, a new COVID-19 surge forced lockdowns and created the need for another relief bill.

James Melcher, professor of political science at the University of Maine Farmington, said he isn’t surprised by Golden’s stance.

“His idea of how Congress should work is one that places a lower premium on partisanship than nearly anyone else on Capitol Hill,” Melcher said via email. “He has placed a high degree of emphasis on how the legislative process should work and he’s stuck to that even when it is not convenient for his party’s leadership.”

Melcher says Golden has some leverage, in part because of his electoral vulnerability. “I think Pelosi realizes that pushing him too hard and forcing him to go along with her all the time in a district that voted for Trump twice is counterproductive for the Democrats controlling the House,” he said.

One of Golden’s possible Republican challengers, 27-year-old state senator Trey Stewart, announced Thursday he was dropping out of his party’s primary and endorsing former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who now appears likely to be the party’s nominee. Poliquin lost to Golden by a single percentage point in the final tabulation of ranked-choice voting in 2018, becoming the first incumbent to lose the 2nd District in 102 years.

Asked about the development, Golden said the race wasn’t in his thoughts and that it would be “silly for me to pretend like I know” whether this improved or harmed his chances of re-election. “If I’m losing any sleep, it’s because I have a 3-month-old baby at home,” he said.

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