U.S. Rep. Jared Golden is facing mounting frustration from progressives on his reluctance to support the Build Back Better Act ahead of a potential vote this week, highlighting the divisions within the Democratic congressman’s coalition ahead of a high-profile reelection race next year.
The Leeds native has been wary of signing onto the act that’s a pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, pointing out in long Medium posts the pros and cons of the $1.75 trillion bill and withholding his final judgement until a Congressional Budget Office scoring is unveiled.
The bill would expand the nation’s social safety net, with investments in universal preschool, child care, an extension of the expanded child tax credit and measures aimed at reducing prescription drug prices and other health care costs. It also includes major climate change initiatives, including tax credits to spur a shift to renewable energy.
Golden voted with Democrats last week to move the bill forward procedurally.
An estimate on the costs is expected to be released by Friday, and House Democrats are vowing to have an initial vote this week. The bill faces headwinds in the Senate, and the debate risks bleeding into December, when it could also get tangled up with budget discussions.
Democrats can only afford to lose three votes on the bill. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, have both signaled support for the bill. Sen. Susan Collins, the delegation’s sole Republican, is against it.
It is not unusual for Golden to hold his cards close on big votes. He did not reveal his decision to impeach former President Donald Trump the first time until the night before the vote, for example. But his continued pushback against some of the bill’s tax provisions and his insistence on not voting on the bill until a complete cost estimate has been released have rankled some members of his coalition.
Golden has said he would vote against the bill unless that estimate was released.
Progressives have been lobbying Golden’s office for weeks about the bill’s child care, paid leave, health care and climate change provisions. Some say Golden’s hesitation on the bill ignores the greater effects it could have on policy priorities he has otherwise supported, such as lower prescription drug prices and climate change, while the congressman argues care is needed before voting on the momentous legislation.
While progressives are unlikely to abandon him for former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the lead Republican looking to challenge Golden next fall, one advocate said there is concern a “no” vote could dampen their enthusiasm in what is sure to be a close rematch. Golden held onto his seat last fall by 6.6 percentage points, and the 2nd Congressional District is widely viewed as a toss-up district next year.
“Many people in CD2 are looking for a climate champion, someone who is going to lead and take bold action,” said Kathleen Meil, director of policy with Maine Conservation Voters. For many climate-focused voters, she said, the problems Golden raised in his Medium posts are less important than advancing the bill’s environmental elements.
Some groups have already drawn lines in the sand around the bill. The League of Conservation Voters, which Maine Conservation Voters is affiliated with and endorsed Golden in his 2018 run, told members of Congress it would not support anyone who does not vote for the Build Back Better Act.
Golden has pushed back against those critiques, saying on Nov. 5 his constituents expect him to take a thoughtful approach to the bill and that the CBO estimate is needed before the Senate can take up the bill anyway. He said then he would not support the bill.
He remained firm on his critiques of the bill Tuesday, pointing to a lack of job protections in its paid leave provisions and a part of the bill that would raise the cap on the amount in state and local taxes that people can deduct from their federal tax liability — known as the SALT cap. That provision would largely benefit people who make over $1 million a year.
“These are the details some advocacy groups are missing when they ask me to fall in line and stop asking questions,” Golden said. “Specifics might be insignificant to activists, but they have a real impact on the lives of my constituents.”
Betsy Sweet, a former Maine U.S. Senate candidate and founder of the Moose Ridge Associates lobbying firm, said the bill could be definitive for voters, pointing to polling showing broad support for paid family leave and affordable child care.
Rather than abandon him over the vote or simply not turn out for the election, Sweet said she hoped progressives would view a potential “no” vote as a chance to continue conversations with the congressman — and that Golden would listen to the more left-leaning members of his coalition, including towns newly added to his district such as the heavily Democratic Hallowell.
“We’ll keep reminding him that he has to support all of us,” Sweet said.
Those factions would find little relief in Poliquin, who said Tuesday he disliked Build Back Better because of its size, and his belief that it would drive up inflation for fuel and groceries at a time when prices have escalated. He also disliked that it would create new surcharges on certain incomes and extend the American Rescue Plan Act’s child tax credit.
“All this takes more money out of our pockets,” he said.