Across Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, I have heard from constituents about their perspectives on major legislation coming out of Washington.

Many are familiar with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has passed the Senate but not yet the House, and the investments it will make in roads, bridges, broadband and more. Others have weighed in on the still-developing reconciliation legislation, which proposes an expansion of economic policies to support individuals and families. Still others are sick of the bickering, unclear on what’s actually in either of these bills, and are hoping Congress will stop fighting and sort it out.

I strongly support the bipartisan infrastructure bill and think the House should pass and send it to the president immediately. As for the separate $3.5 trillion draft reconciliation proposal in the House, while there are many worthy policies under consideration, I cannot support it in its current form, nor does it currently have the votes to pass in Congress. While those may be difficult realities for some to acknowledge, there is a silver lining: There is still time for us to get it right.

Good public policy always involves choices – weighing how best to target limited taxpayer dollars, how to avoid building programs that are unsustainable or underfunded, how to prioritize the best investments over the long-term and more. Grappling with those decisions takes time and involves tradeoffs. The alternative is to avoid that work and instead to take the easy way out, using shortcuts and gimmicks to avoid hard choices. 

Unfortunately, the draft reconciliation bill in its current form opts for the path of least resistance, taking too many shortcuts and skirting difficult decisions. Take, for example, the proposal’s expansion of the Medicare program to cover vision, dental and hearing, a policy that has merit. However, to implement this policy, the draft reconciliation bill relies on budget gimmicks, with dental benefits not taking effect until 2028. The decision to delay these benefits was based in significant part on a desire to lower the overall price tag of the bill, but it is disingenuous, allowing lawmakers to try to claim they made a historic expansion that may never take effect while obscuring the true cost of the expansion, at potential risk to the broader Medicare program.

Similarly, many of the proposal’s key policies to support workers and families, like extending the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), are implemented for only four years to artificially lower the bill’s overall cost. I support this policy, but I also think low-income families shouldn’t become the targets in yet another congressionally-manufactured fiscal cliff. If Congress believes this is good policy, we should pay for it for the full 10-year budget window.

The draft proposal also fails to target policies to those most in need. For instance, while the CTC is a worthy program, the current proposal would continue to provide this tax benefit to some households that make as much as $520,000 per year. Another example is a new tax credit for electric vehicles purchases, which would provide tax breaks to families making all the way up to $800,000 a year. Both of these programs are among those that should be more responsibly targeted to working and middle class families.

Finally, the proposal as it stands is not fully paid for, nor does it account for the likely costs of the policies if they were extended over the traditional 10-year timeframe. The president himself has repeatedly promised that the cost of this effort will be “zero,” but the draft plan does not yet meet that test. Coming on the heels of $6 trillion in deficit-financed COVID relief and $2 trillion in unfunded 2017 tax cuts, it would be irresponsible and hypocritical for us to do otherwise.

Good policy requires time and hard choices, and we should take the time to match the lofty rhetoric around these proposals with the durability of their construction. The bipartisan infrastructure bill has already gone through this process. I continue to support getting it to the president’s desk as soon as possible, and I won’t trade my vote for that bill for any reconciliation proposal. But as the president said last week, we have the time and ability to get the reconciliation bill right, and we should. Only time will tell if we choose that path.

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