Remember “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”? It’s a classic.

Jimmy Stewart plays an honest man who finds himself in the middle of a corrupt government plot to build a hydropower dam on the site of a proposed scout camp somewhere out West, and he is able to singlehandedly stop it by standing alone for what’s right.

I wonder if 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden has seen it, because I couldn’t help thinking about that movie when I read his statement Friday morning after the disappointing delay of the House vote on the big bipartisan infrastructure package, a key part of the Biden economic agenda. It sounds like Golden sees himself as the only honest man in Washington.

Back in August, he had been part of the group of nine House Democrats who threatened to block progress on the president’s social policy agenda if they didn’t get an immediate chance to vote on the infrastructure bill, a move that could derail his party’s priorities in health care, child care, climate and tax policy, which were still being negotiated in the Senate.

The renegades were placated with a promise that the vote would take place in a month, but when the deadline arrived, it was delayed because members of the 94-member House Progressive Caucus said they would not support it until they saw what the Senate came up with. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi determined that she couldn’t pass the bill, so she put off the vote.

In his statement, Golden accused Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of “double dealing” and said the delay of the vote made them “not worthy of trust.”

Golden said he’d never agreed to linking the two bills. He accused unnamed others of being “unwilling to compromise and build consensus.” In a Smith-like flourish, Golden ended his statement by saying he would decide later whether to support any of Biden’s agenda only after independently determining whether it “is in the best interest of my constituents and the country.”

As of this writing, no vote has been scheduled, but negotiators are still at work and by the time you read this, everything could be resolved. But the acrimony over this process is going to last, and Golden and the other refuseniks have to see that they contributed to this ugly process.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was a great movie, but it teaches some dangerous lessons about government, especially the idea that one honest man is more important than teamwork. Mr. Smith’s heroic act came in the form of a 24-hour filibuster, that arcane rule of the Senate that is driving so much of the dysfunction in Washington today.

Even though Democrats are the majority party, Republicans can block most bills from passing – and they do.

The one narrow exception is the budget reconciliation process, which allows a limited number of bills to pass on a majority vote. When Republicans had the majority, they used reconciliation to pass tax cuts, their top priority. But Democrats don’t have just one issue that ties them all together the way Republicans unite on taxes, so their reconciliation bill has disparate elements, such as carbon emission penalties on power plants, free community college, an extension of the child tax credit and a dental benefit for Medicare.

And none of those provisions can get out of the Senate without the support of two unconventional Democrats: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. They were key architects of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but so far have been holdouts on the Democratic-only reconciliation bill.

Manchin, Sinema, President Biden and others wanted at least part of the agenda to pass on a bipartisan basis, and they made major concessions to get Republican votes on the infrastructure bill.

Progressive Democrats in the Senate, who were not part of that negotiation,  voted for a bill that did not include their priorities because they understood that the Democratic-only bill would address their issues. Now progressives in the House are understandably concerned that more-conservative Democrats will abandon the progressives’ priorities once the infrastructure bill is gone.

By demanding a stand-alone vote on the infrastructure bill without waiting for the other package, Golden and the others added pressure to an already-pressured situation. Nothing he has said since that standoff, especially not his Friday statement, gives his colleagues any reason to trust him.

Golden must see that he can’t stand alone like Jimmy Stewart.

His group doesn’t have the votes to pass the infrastructure plan without the progressive caucus, and they don’t have the votes to pass anything without nearly unanimous backing from him and the others from conservative districts.

If they don’t figure out a way to make that happen soon , this movie will not have a happy ending.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.