Tina Riley

Knowing that our economy needs investments that go well beyond traditional infrastructure, I strongly support the Build Back Better bill.

The single largest provision in the bill, providing care and education for young children, is known to return seven to eight dollars to our economy for every dollar spent. It’s among the best possible investments for long-term economic growth and stability.

The bill’s smaller provisions will also deliver value to our country, which prides itself on being the best in the world, though we have slipped over the years as investments of this kind have lost systemic power.

I was baffled that my U.S. congressman, Jared Golden, was voting against it, so I read the statement on his web page. His rationale? The second-largest provision in the bill is a tax break that does nothing for most working Americans; almost all of the benefit will go to people making close to $1 million a year.

We are in debt up to our ears and cannot afford to spend more on people who don’t need it, when so many are panicking about heating fuel and food prices. Rep. Golden looked past the partisan talking points to focus on negotiating a better deal for the people he represents.

To my dismay, he was attacked from both sides of the divide. People on the right are sure that spending on social programs is wasteful and will lead us to a socialist dystopia, while those on the left are well aware of the need for meaningful investment. Both sides are confident that theirs is the correct and moral voice, and are incensed at those who give any consideration to the other’s concerns.

Our government works when our representatives consider each bill’s impact on all of their constituents. One person’s trash truly is another’s treasure, so weighing the benefits to one group against the costs to another tends to be difficult; there are no easy answers. Finding a mix of provisions that enough people can agree on is key, but any attempt to do that is considered heresy by the ideological wings of each party. The pressure they apply to elected officials to get them to conform to their wishes is alarming.

Paraphrasing a 1774 speech by Edmund Burke: We all have a right to deliver our opinion to our representatives, who owe us not only their ear but also their conscience and their judgment. For us to give them authoritative instructions on how to vote is “a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”

The enduring counsel of our forefathers can guide our survival as a nation, even in the midst of terrible division. Lincoln admonished us, in the wake of the Civil War, that we must rise above the pain and anger that each of us feels, and commit to ensuring that this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We must prioritize the well-being of this nation above our political preferences, regardless of our passion for the issue at hand or our outrage at those who disagree with us, because we face that same consequence again today.

It was easy, after 9/11, for Americans in our “United We Stand” t-shirts to claim that high ground. It’s far less easy today when we are so shaken and angry at the political positions we see our friends and neighbors taking up. But we give in to that anger at our children’s peril; if we cannot unite to uphold the ideals that our forebears crafted for us, the legacy that we leave to the next generation will be one of bloodshed and chaos. We have the power to stop that, if only we can find the will.

Our lack of trust in our government leaves us vulnerable to being used as pawns by our preferred media outlets. Wrongfully demanding that our elected officials vote in accordance with our beliefs, we are pushing Congress away from its intended role as a deliberative body. We must, instead, insist that they commit to higher principles rather than to greater partisan rancor. This is the hard thing that we must do. We owe it to ourselves, to the countless lives given for this country, and to those who inherit it from us.

While always messy and often noisy, Congress has been instrumental in making the American standard of living among the best in the world. It was designed and built by geniuses who can still steer us back from the brink of destruction.

Today, I ask Rep. Golden to continue to embrace the higher purpose that they crafted. We will find the path to restoring America’s strength on neither the right nor the left, but upward, by embracing the tenets that built our republic rather than the sound bites that are tearing it apart.

Tina Riley, who served two terms in the Maine House, resides in Jay.

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