Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader helped pass infrastructure plan, but still may oppose Build Back Better

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Nov. 6, 2021 10:43 p.m.

Schrader says he needs to see what the Congressional Budget Office report concludes about the president’s social policy plan. And he says he’s running for reelection in Oregon’s fifth U.S. House district.

Rep. Kurt Schrader

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, pictured in this undated OPB photo, was part of a coalition of moderate Democrats who helped convince progressives to support the president's infrastructure plan late Friday. But he's still not certain whether he'll vote for a social policy plan known as the Build Back Better Act.

Alan Sylvestre / OPB

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader is among the five moderate Democrats who pledged to vote for President Biden’s social policy plan. But Schrader says there’s still a chance he’ll vote against it.


Congress was only able to pass Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan Friday after Schrader and others in the moderate coalition issued a statement promising they’d later vote for what’s known as the Build Back Better plan — a collection of ambitious social and climate policy initiatives that would cost another $1.75 trillion.

The group’s statement reads: “We commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form ... as expeditiously as we receive fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office — but in no event later than the week of November 15th — consistent with the toplines for revenues and investments” in the White House framework.

Nonetheless, Schrader said he could vote against the bill depending on the outcome of the budgetary analysis.

“If the cost estimates were way off — if this cost more than $1.75 trillion — I’d have to take another look at it. Or if some of the public policies are not exactly what they’ve been billed as,” Schrader said Saturday. “We just want to make sure that it scores the way it’s supposed to be and that we have a chance to read through this and do our due diligence for folks back home.”

The Congressional Budget Office is a nonpartisan office that estimates how much legislation might cost taxpayers. It scores proposed legislation to estimate how much it will cost over a period of time. Democrats don’t yet have a score for the Build Back Better plan, although Senate Democrats are procedurally required to have one before they vote.


The Biden Administration says the plan won’t cost taxpayers a dime, as it pulls from revenues taxing large corporations and wealthy Americans.

The scene in the House on Friday was “tense,” Schrader said. He had expected to be on a plane heading back to Oregon by that afternoon. Instead, he and other Democrats had a back-and-forth on Biden’s proposals. Many progressives worried that if they passed the infrastructure plan first, there’d be no chance of the social policies passing later on.

“They were going to vote to adjourn and kill their own agenda, which was, I thought, pretty strange,” Schrader said. “But they came upstairs in the cafeteria and we sat in a room with about four or five of them and crafted a statement about our intent.”

He said that intent is to “negotiate in real good faith.”

“And if there were problems that were identified, we’d try and work through them, not just say, ‘Well, tough guys lose,’” Schrader said.

Schrader has represented Oregon’s fifth congressional district since 2009. He won reelection in 2020 with 52% of the vote, while his Republican opponent gained 45% of votes. He also faced a challenge from the left in the Democratic primary from Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, but easily won the party nomination.

There was some speculation as to whether he’d run again next year, whether for the fifth or newly minted sixth district. On Saturday, Schrader told OPB he will seek reelection in 2022 for his home district, even though a new sixth U.S. House seat given to Oregon cuts into the fifth’s old borders.

“It’s going to be tough,” Schrader said. “I’ve lost half of the folks I used to represent — over half. I’ve introduced myself to a whole bunch of new folks, but that’s an opportunity. It’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity.”

The new borders for Oregon’s fifth district include most of Clackamas and Marion counties — except Salem — as well as Linn County and a large portion of Deschutes County. Although Schrader lives in Canby, which sits within the redrawn fifth district, federal law doesn’t require members of the House to reside in the district they represent.

By running for his old seat, Schrader will face another primary challenge; Terrebonne resident Jamie McLeod-Skinner announced last month that she plans to seek the 2022 Democratic nomination.