You’d think legislators would insist on reviewing and analyzing a proposed law before voting on it. That was the view of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, but apparently most members of his caucus didn’t agree.

On Nov. 5, Maine’s 2nd District congressman was one of a handful of Democratic holdouts in the House of Representatives who resisted their leadership’s pressure to approve the Build Back Better Act, a sprawling piece of legislation with an estimated price tag of $1.85 trillion.

Golden made his reasons clear in a press release that day.

“The more than 2,000-page bill House leadership wants to vote on today was still being written early this morning,” he stated. “In the past 48 hours, over $200 billion is estimated to have been added to the bill… . Unless there is a clear and pressing emergency … the bare minimum … our constituents expect is that their elected representatives will take the time to review the text of a massive bill and analyze its impact in full.”

In addition, Golden pointed out, he wanted to wait for the Congressional Budget Office’s report projecting the fiscal consequences of the legislation.

As an attorney, I’m accustomed to reading and parsing the dense verbiage of legislative statutes. However, my foray into the initial version of the Build Back Better Act, published Sept. 27, made my head spin and my eyes glaze over.


It was 2,466 pages in length, covering a multitude of disparate social spending programs and taxation provisions, its language almost impenetrable. Even for a hardworking legislator and his congressional staff, I would expect, it would take weeks of intense effort to wade through it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the bill went through a series of subsequent redrafts up to and including the morning of the scheduled vote.

So why rush to enact it? The answer, as in most things on Capitol Hill, was politics. It was the product of a Hail Mary pass by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Progressives, like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, realized they’d likely have only one chance to enact into law the smorgasbord of social welfare spending they’d been advocating for years. Due to the existence of the filibuster in the Senate (requiring a 60-vote supermajority), very narrow Democratic majorities in both chambers and solid Republican opposition, they’d have to resort to the reconciliation process, a parliamentary device that permits purely budgetary bills to pass both houses by a simple majority.

The key for the progressives was to get all Democratic legislators, including centrists like Golden, on board for the reconciliation bill, and the only way to do that was to focus on the parts of their agenda in which the entire caucus could achieve consensus. But the progressives, who are much better at lecturing and hectoring than negotiating, were reluctant to bargain away any of the goodies they thought essential for an extreme makeover of American society.

Instead, they squandered months engaging in ferocious infighting with moderates over what would be in the bill and how it would be paid for. As the bill’s scope and price tag slowly got whittled down from $3.5 trillion to roughly half that sum, time began running out on the legislative calendar, while the voters’ mood was turning decidedly against the Democratic Party — and for good reason.


For one thing, the progressives had held hostage what President Biden touted as a “once-in-a-generation” infrastructure bill to force passage of the Build Back Better Act. It wasn’t until Nov. 6, almost three months after the Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by a bipartisan vote of 69-30, that House progressives, with six of its hard-core members dissenting, grudgingly supported the bill’s approval and sent it to the president for signature.

This was a serious error of judgment. The popular measure earmarked $1.2 trillion for badly needed repairs and upgrades to America’s deteriorating infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric power grids, lead water pipes and wastewater systems. It also supported high-speed internet access, electric vehicle charging stations and purchase of electric schools buses. About $2.4 billion of those funds would flow to Maine. As a centrist, Golden had urged from the outset that the bill be passed without delay or linkage to the Build Back Better Act.

For another thing, the very public intraparty feuding that caused the delay probably made voters wonder whether Democrats really had the ability to govern. After all, the 2020 election results reflected, at least in part, their desire to return to some sort of calm, normalcy and competence after four years of Trump’s chaotic clown show.

Reality finally seemed to dawn on the progressives after the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election results in blue-leaning Virginia and New Jersey served notice that Democrats were in danger of losing Congress in 2022 and Biden’s approval ratings plunged below 40%.

It’s unclear whether the Build Back Better Act, though still on the legislative docket, will ever pass. At various times, its iterations have contemplated funding for numerous worthy causes, including free community college education, paid family leave, child care subsidies, universal preschool, expanded healthcare coverage, affordable housing, extended child tax credits and clean energy. Individually these command public support. Collectively they resemble a giant Christmas tree with too many ornaments.

Worse, Democrats have been unable to agree on tax increases sufficient to support the bill’s estimated expenditures. Among the few revenue producers are a minimum 15% tax on big corporations, a surtax on those earning more than $10 million, and beefed up IRS enforcement of tax evaders.

By the time the Build Back Better Act had been built back smaller and hastily cobbled together for a vote Nov. 5, there was little opportunity for legislators to examine its contents or cost. That’s why Golden and his moderate colleagues withheld their consent.

They were right to do so. At a “bare minimum,” a legislator owes a duty to his constituents, not to mention his country, to understand what he’s voting on.

Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 15 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer. He may be contacted at

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