Golden Statement on Vote Against $1.9 Trillion Legislative Package
Early this morning, Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) voted against H.R. 1319, a $1.9 trillion legislative package developed by party leaders in an effort to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the vote, he released the following statement:
“During challenging times, the country needs its elected leaders to work together to meet the most urgent needs in their communities. This bill addresses urgent needs, and then buries them under a mountain of unnecessary or untimely spending. In reviewing the bill in its full scope, less than 20 percent of the total spending addresses core COVID challenges that are immediately pressing: funding for vaccine distribution and testing, and emergency federal unemployment programs. I support these portions of the bill wholeheartedly and believe we should do more for the people hardest hit by the pandemic by continuing to extend unemployment programs until economic indicators show they are no longer necessary.
“Unfortunately, the path congressional leaders have chosen goes far beyond these key provisions, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. After supporting $4 trillion in emergency COVID relief in 2020, I won’t support trillions more in funding that is poorly targeted or in many cases not necessary at this moment in time.
“Outside of the critical funding priorities — unemployment assistance and vaccine and testing aid — the bulk of this bill falls into two categories. The first category is a series of spending provisions that duplicate ongoing COVID assistance programs that Congress has already funded or are poorly designed and wasteful of public resources. These include:
- Rental assistance: On a bipartisan basis, Congress approved $25 billion in rental assistance only two months ago, and just yesterday Maine officials announced it was ready to begin accepting applications for the $200 million that was allocated to our state for this purpose. Additional rental assistance may be warranted in the future, but it is not necessary at this time.
- Food assistance: In December, I joined with my colleagues to extend a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021. The bill we are voting on today provides no additional enhancements to that current policy, but instead further extends the 15 percent increase until September 30, 2021. I am certainly open to supporting additional food assistance after June 30, should the circumstances warrant it, but I believe Congress should make that decision when the moment requires it.
- Child care assistance: This bill devotes $40 billion to child care assistance. Just two months ago, Congress allocated $10 billion in additional child care assistance to states. Maine only received its allocation on February 4. As with other programs, I believe it is irresponsible to quadruple our investment before we more fully release existing funds and determine what will be needed to help us through the final stages of the pandemic.
- Aid to state and local governments: Over the past year, I have supported $150 billion in aid to states and localities, a critical investment that has helped Maine weather some of the worst periods of the pandemic. As a result of these investments and quick and responsible leadership by Governor Janet Mills, Maine has now been presented with a two-year budget proposal by the governor that is balanced and that makes key investments in education and public health and sets money aside for the state's Rainy Day Fund. Just this week, the state announced its revenue projections are up $154 million over projections for the first seven months of this fiscal year. While some additional aid may be warranted, the $350 billion authorized by this bill far exceeds the actual budget gaps confronting states and localities. I hope that the Senate chooses to better target this funding.
- Schools: This legislation devotes $170 billion to primary and secondary schools and colleges. It has been said this funding is necessary to reopen schools. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that less than 8 percent of this funding will be spent before the end of this school year, and only about a third in the next two years. I have heard from school systems in Maine that have yet to spend the entirety of federal aid provided to them in previous COVID legislation in 2020. Making sure our kids can be back in the classroom full time, in a safe environment for both students and educators is critical but is not a problem that can be solved by simply increasing funding.The CDC has set a standard for safety, and fully reopened K-12 schools are not a possibility in many communities until our vaccine program has eliminated the threat of community spread.
- Small businesses: I have also supported COVID assistance for small businesses in need, and my office has worked tirelessly to connect Maine small businesses owners with the resources they need to weather the pandemic. Importantly, $144 billion remains available for disbursement from the Paycheck Protection Program, and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant that Congress authorized in December has yet to open for applications.
- Direct payments: This bill allocates $1,400 direct checks to individuals making up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000, with phased-down checks for households with incomes as high as $200,000. Under this bill, it is estimated that over 90 percent of Maine tax filers would receive a check from the federal government. While those who have lost jobs or had hours reduced ought to receive income support, it is a waste to send a third round of government checks to wealthy individuals making almost three times the average household salary in Maine’s Second Congressional District. The data shows that among higher-income households, many of the direct checks sent in December were deposited into savings. That money would be better spent on continued unemployment assistance for those who have lost jobs to this pandemic.
“The second category of spending is a series of policies worthy of consideration under regular order but that do not belong in an emergency spending bill. This bill contains approximately $250 billion in these kinds of provisions, including a one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit, a two-year enhancement of premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and multiemployer pension reform. These are sensible — and in some cases bipartisan — policies on their own, and I would be likely to support them as standalone, paid-for legislation. However, using emergency spending legislation to enact these provisions is not a responsible way to make meaningful public policy that can stand the test of time.
“In the end, my concerns with this legislation are not only about these individual provisions, but also about the compounding effect of the spending decisions of the past year. On a bipartisan basis, Congress came together last year to pass multiple COVID-related bills, spending over $4 trillion dollars to help Americans weather the pandemic and its economic effects. Those decisions were made at critical junctures -- an economy in freefall, sudden and mass unemployment, and a more recent winter surge in COVID cases. The moment we find ourselves in now, while critical, is not clouded by the uncertainty we experienced last year. While still in the distance, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have several effective vaccines in circulation, and manufacturers are continuing to scale up production. Many state budgets, like ours in Maine, are beginning to show signs of resilience and recovery. Adding another $2 trillion in spending at this moment exceeds the demonstrated needs of our communities and fails to take into account the nearly $1 trillion in new funding we passed just two months ago, much of which has yet to hit the economy.
“Many have popularly claimed that the biggest threat is not that Congress goes too big but that it goes too small in responding to the current economic situation. They are ignoring the possibility of a much-anticipated infrastructure proposal from the Biden Administration later this year which could offer a chance for Congress to further boost the economy if necessary. Between the money spent in 2020 and today’s package, we are already nearing $6 trillion in new spending in less than one year. This amount of new spending is unprecedented since World War II. It’s not unreasonable to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are making every dollar count and picking the right priorities. At some point, the bill has to come due, and when it does, it could put at risk critical programs such as Medicare or sap resources needed for important future priorities, from rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure to fixing our broken healthcare system.”