Maine’s two Democratic U.S. House members continue to hold divergent stances on one of the most consequential decisions they will face in this Congress: whether to support the core of President Biden’s agenda, a social services and climate change plan that has become a flashpoint between the party’s centrist and progressive wings.

Rep. Jared Golden, whose 2nd District constituents voted for Donald Trump by 7 points last November, reiterated that he would vote against the $3.5 trillion draft of the bill that came out of the House Budget Committee on Sept. 25 over concerns about its cost and scale. He said he is pressuring colleagues and the White House to make the bill leaner and better targeted to the needs of working families.

“I believe we are still a ways from a final bill, but talks are moving forward,” Golden said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “I’ll need to see what is in any final deal, including the bill text, before making a decision.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, whose 1st District constituents chose Biden by a 23-point margin, says the package has her full support, even if it is not written exactly as she would like.

“I’ve never had the opportunity in my years in Congress to get everything I’ve absolutely wanted out of every bill, and that’s part of the art of compromise,” she said in a telephone interview. “We’re all a mixture of different interests when it comes to a big bill like this and what we’re trying to do now is meld them all together.”

The Press Herald interviewed both House members to better understand how they have arrived at different positions on the president’s signature legislative package, the failure of which would likely damage his presidency and the Democrats’ ability to hold onto one or both houses of Congress in next November’s midterm elections.

The bill as written would represent the most significant expansion of the nation’s safety net since the mid-60s, 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 was to be paid for through increased taxes on corporations, the wealthy and large inheritances.

But the package is being dramatically pared back in frenetic ongoing negotiations between more liberal Democrats and conservatives like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Community college tuition was reportedly removed this week, for example.

It is often called the “reconciliation bill” because Democrats intend to avoid a Senate Republican filibuster by using a process called reconciliation, but all fifty Democratic senators in the evenly divided chamber have to support the procedure. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent member of the Democratic caucus, is expected to support the measure, while Republican Sen. Susan Collins is expected to oppose it.

In the House, Democrats can only afford to lose three votes, so each member has some leverage over leadership.

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

The two House members from Maine described very different approaches to the assessing the bill. Pingree noted 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 packages are by their very nature.

“If I could write this bill myself it would have much more investments in the environment, renewable energy, forestry and agriculture, but I understand that some things will be cut and some will be written with a language I don’t like,” she said. “We are negotiating a bill that will apply to urban and rural areas, North and South, different kinds of communities. It’s an enormous task to do this with these big bills.”

Golden, by contrast, has said he has been scrutinizing every component of the 2,400-page bill, looking for ways to improve or streamline its contents.

“The top line cost figures are not the main factor for me as the hinge point on how I’d vote, but I am looking at certain factors that some choose to ignore,” Golden said in a telephone interview. “One is that we have had $6 trillion in deficit spending since March 2020 in addition to our annual government appropriations – that’s a lot of money. And inflation is real and proving to be a bit more sustained than people were talking about.” More spending, he argues, could worsen inflation, hurting his constituents’ pocket books.

But he said he is primarily concerned by the inclusion of measures he sees as less urgent – free community college and giving subsidies to affluent buyers of electric vehicles – and others that are currently written such that they shower money on the upper middle class and the wealthy, not just those who need the help. He cited the eligibility requirements for the proposed child care and child tax credits as examples of the latter.

“We should probably be looking at identifying the top priorities based on what we think are the greatest challenges for the nation as a whole and focus on doing those and doing them well and on paying for them for a longer period of time,” he said. “The focus should be on need and eligibility and on making effective use of taxpayer money.”

Golden also is opposed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi having linked the fate of the bill with that of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he helped negotiate.

DISTRICT DYNAMICS

Ross Baker, distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University who follows Maine politics, said the difference in the representatives’ approach reflects that of the two districts.

“Pingree is certainly in line with most progressives and she’s a Pelosi person so she’ll follow the leadership of the party. But Golden is in a very different political position in the 2nd District and has to walk a fairly fine line,” he said. “The fact he is taking a microscope to this bill and making decisions on basic components of it is quite understandable because in a multi-hundred page bill there are things that if he is not careful he could wind up voting for that could hurt him.”

“It doesn’t ingratiate him with leadership, but they understand and will cut him slack because they need that seat to hold the House,” Baker added.

Alan Wiseman, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, agreed the two House members’ differences parallel the differences between their constituents. But he noted they’ve both been effective as lawmakers, according to an evaluation system he helped devise that looks at members’ ability to move legislation, controlling for their seniority, whether they are in the majority or hold leadership 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 has and appreciates the different ways legislation changes during the course through markup and committee and so on,” Wiseman said. “But truthfully, this may come back to the fact that their approaches toward Build Back Better just reflects the difference in their policy perspectives, which map pretty neatly into the areas they represent.”

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