For some students, this week’s federal government shutdown may not mean much more than a cancelled weekend trip to Acadia National Park. But not all Mainers are as insulated, and the spending freeze will be felt most acutely by those who are already vulnerable.
According to the Portland Press Herald, funding for Section 8 housing subsidies for low-income residents is only guaranteed through the end of the month; if federal funds aren’t restored, landlords will have grounds to evict tenants. Similarly, money for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is likely to dry up if the shutdown is not resolved before the end of the month, leaving the more than 26,000 Mainers who receive assistance through those programs unable to cover their basic expenses. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that subsidizes utility costs—which will only increase as the weather gets colder—needs federal confirmation before November to be able to help underwrite heating bills.
The previous shutdown, which lasted for 26 days between November 1995 and January 1996, cost the federal government $1.4 billion. Bloomberg projects the current shutdown will cost the federal government about $300 million a day. The results of an extended shutdown will be enormous, and a swift agreement seems like a tenuous hope. We will hit the debt ceiling on October 17, and if the government surpasses it, the Treasury will not have the authority to borrow funds to close the gap between spending and revenues. Though Speaker of the House John Boehner has publicly stated that he wants to avoid defaulting on our loans, the shutdown is an unnecessary crisis and his egregious mishandling leads us to question his ability to navigate another critical fiscal vote.
The 1995-1996 shutdown was precipitated by back-and-forth budget negotiations between both parties. This time around, it’s different. A group of 80 Republicans in the House, dubbed the “suicide caucus” by conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, has hijacked the governing process. These representatives make up only 18 percent of the total House membership. According to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, they were elected with only 12 percent of the 118 million votes cast in House elections last November. Despite these low percentages, these Republicans received the tacit approval of Speaker Boehner who has proved unwilling or unable to exercise his leadership to stop the suicide caucus, contrary to his assertions that he wanted to avoid a shutdown.
These 80 representatives have used a routine procedural measure to prevent the full funding and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which has been enacted by Congress, signed by the president, and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. This shutdown is not the product of normal partisan bickering; it is unyielding dogmatism masquerading as legitimate negotiation. Republican members of the suicide caucus are exploiting the letter of the law at the expense of their constitutional duty to govern, and they should be held responsible.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Claire Aasen, Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Marisa McGarry, Eliza Novick-Smith, Sam Miller and Sam Weyrauch.