US Rep. Jared Golden after winning a second term last month representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

One of the most powerful Democrats in Congress took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives late Monday to tell the country about some of the popular items included in a spending bill that includes $900 million for COVID-19 relief.

But before he launched into his spiel, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland slipped into a discussion about how members, who have earned $174,000 annually since 2009, are underpaid.

Hoyer denounced a successful effort to block cost-of-living hikes for Congress, calling the move unjust and declaring himself disgusted that some politicians killed the pay hike so they could beat their chests and declare, “Aren’t we courageous?”

One of the two members of the House whose opposition wiped out a proposed $4,500 cost-of-living increase, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, said Tuesday he found Hoyer’s claims “shockingly out of touch.”

“If people wonder why working, middle-class people in America are cynical about the prospects that Washington can fix itself, this is a good example of why,” Golden said as he drove home from Capitol Hill to Lewiston.

Golden said he and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, stood against the pay hike because they could not see why representatives earning more than three times as much as most of their constituents should be seeking more money.

“Hardworking Americans across the country do not receive automatic raises every year, and neither should Congress,” Fitzpatrick said in a prepared statement. “Congress needs a reality check, not a raise.”

After the two men pleaded last month in public to the Appropriations Committee to drop plans for a raise, Golden said a lot of senior members were “wagging a finger” at them for spotlighting the issue. But House leaders still pulled the pay hike out of the bill once they could not quietly push it through, the lawmaker added.

Golden said party leaders need to focus more on helping Americans get by and less on catering to the wealthy.

For example, he said, the inclusion of a provision to let businesses write off every penny spent at restaurants next year does nothing for all the people who do not have an expense account. It only helps the wealthy, he said.

Even so, Golden voted in favor of the spending package that includes $1.4 trillion to fund the government through Sept. 30 and $900 billion to help the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golden said he found it frustrating to receive a 5,000-page bill eight hours before he had to vote on it.

Golden called it “a terrible process with no transparency” that allowed legislative leaders to put together a crucial measure behind closed doors. But his distaste for the process, he said, could not outweigh the necessity of approving it, given the hardships facing his 2nd District constituents.

Golden said the money for small business assistance, an extension of extra unemployment payments, vaccine development and other parts of the bill are badly needed.

“It’s going to be a difficult couple of months” for many Mainers, Golden said, as COVID-19’s toll grows before vaccinations begin to help.

Golden said a group of legislators from each party, some of them far from centrists, have been working together to try to find common ground for months, pressuring leaders to take action.

Both of Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, were also involved in pushing for a compromise that would at least deliver some of what is needed.

“Maine should feel pretty good that her two senators were both in the middle of this common-sense revolt” to put forward a package, King wrote in an Instagram post.

Collins said in a prepared statement: “This bipartisan relief legislation is a victory for the American people. Our bipartisan group led the way, working night and day to develop the commonsense plan that was both the foundation and the necessary impetus for this final agreement.”

Golden said too many leaders on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill failed to act more swiftly because they were more interested in playing politics than serving the American people during a difficult election year.

Looking ahead, Golden said he would like to see a better political environment after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

“Hope springs eternal,” Golden said. “I have a lot of faith in the American people.”

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