Maine’s Jared Golden is among the reasons congressional Democrats are still struggling to unite around a budget bill to boost families and finally begin combating global warming. He’s playing a dangerous game.

The massive bill has already been cut from $3.5 trillion — a large, but justifiable increase in spending, since it’s fully funded by increased taxes on huge fortunes — to around $2 trillion. Yet Golden is still playing Hamlet.

In a recent op-ed, the second-term 2nd District congressman outlined his concerns about the bill. They do not focus on the major spending and tax increases contained in President Biden’s signature statement about what he wants his administration to be.

Instead, Golden accuses House and Senate leaders of taking “the path of least resistance” and suggests that its terms “artificially lower the bill’s overall cost.”

The right thing to do, he says, would be to cost out everything over 10 years and do it all at once, though how that would be paid for he never says. In a follow-up letter to House chairs, he faults delaying new dental benefits under Medicare.

Finding a couple of nits to pick in an enormous, 2,000-page bill with hundreds of individual features may strike Golden as clever, but it answers none of the questions about where his loyalties lie, and what the fate of this Democratic administration will be.

He’s hiding behind his support of an earlier, bipartisan infrastructure bill that, at $1.2 trillion, doubles current spending but provides exactly no new revenues — why it earned some Republican support, along with that of every Democrat.

In fact, he sounds much like the Republicans who obstructed the Affordable Care Act’s passage in the Obama administration by insisting that, with a few more changes, they might come aboard — but never did.

What Golden is doing is worse than what Sen. Joe Manchin is doing, even though the West Virginia Democrat drives progressives wild.

At least Manchin has his cards on the table. He set a low bottom line ­— $1.5 trillion, and prescribed limits on tax increases that take back part of the huge cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals enacted during the Trump administration.

Golden seems more like Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, the other Senate Democratic holdout, who says she won’t vote for the current bill, but gives no intelligible reason why. Neither has a word to say about taxes.

Golden is part of a group of nine House Democratic moderates, while there are 94 members of the progressive caucus. It’s hard to understand why he thinks his view must prevail.

The obvious answer to Golden’s gamesmanship is that he believes he must keep his distance from Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose election he twice opposed, in a district carried by Trump.

But his quibbling makes no sense. He dismays those who voted for him, without winning over those who didn’t.

The programs, and the taxes, in both bills are overwhelmingly popular. Republican voters like them, even if their GOP congressmen don’t.

Investments in stemming global warming are years overdue. The broad support for families that kept millions afloat during the pandemic will vanish without a new bill — considerations far more important than the timing of dental benefits.

Does Golden really want another Democratic president to fail? Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were hamstrung by huge losses in their first congressional elections.

He may think he can protect his own seat through “triangulation,” but he’s wrong here, too. If Democrats don’t pass a robust budget bill soon, they’ll be derided as failures, with the only question how big Republican majorities will be after 2022.

Congress is often described as dysfunctional, without any insight into where the dysfunction lies. It’s this: Everything is presumed to be only about the next election, with much of the media obsessed whether the daily news cycle raises or lowers ratings.

It doesn’t have to be that way; over time, good policy is good politics. When voters like what they’re getting from a political party, they reward it.

When a party can’t deliver on its promises, it fails at the ballot box. That’s happened too many times in recent decades.

Call it incompetence, or call it obstruction by the other side, it’s taken a fearful toll on Americans’ belief in government’s ability to support the common good.

Since Democrats believe that public programs are a primary answer to the ills laid bare by the pandemic — the unequal burdens faced by so many millions of Americans — they must show the way.

If Rep. Golden can’t figure that out, he may soon be looking for another job.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books. His first, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now out in paperback.  He welcomes comment at [email protected]

 


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