More than 11,000 federal workers in Maine are currently at risk of being furloughed or expected to work certain roles without being paid. Why? Because of stubborn partisan brinkmanship, which House Republicans in Washington are prioritizing above the welfare of the American people.

And the nonpayment of federal workers isn’t the half of it.

If Congress fails to reach agreement on the budget before Sunday, the resulting government shutdown would mean Maine’s national parks would likely be forced to close their gates at one of the most popular times of the year (with long-lasting side effects); food assistance for about 18,000 women and children in our state would be up in the air; access to federal programs that require a verification process (applications for small business loans, federally backed home mortgages, passports) would be jeopardized; state government could lose federal funding for certain federally backed programs and staff.

Maine relies more on federal funding than the average U.S. state. In fiscal 2021, 41.4% of our revenue came from federal sources. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the national average is 36.7%. The last federal shutdown lasted 35 days, the longest in history, and cost the country an estimated $3 billion.

Gov. Mills put it well earlier this week, calling shutdowns like the one we’re hurtling toward “needless, self-inflicted crises that destabilize our economy, jeopardize services that Maine people rely on, endanger our national security, and further erode the already strained faith of people in government.”

These are the effects of a – looming – federal government shutdown.


But wait, there’s even more.

The shutdown is the threat. The political ends of the group of representatives who are content with forcing the country into it are more troubling.

This group of right-wing extremists is prepared to show just how extreme it can be. More or less led by Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, it has summarily obstructed every attempt at averting shutdown so far. Why? Because Gaetz and his allies want aggressive limits and caps on federal spending and will stop at nothing until they get them.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said House Republicans had “turned their backs on a bipartisan budget deal to propose devastating cuts to programs that hardworking people in Maine and across the country rely on.”

The other three members of Maine’s congressional delegation have all been outspoken against actions leading to shutdown and the need to avert it. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has repeatedly warned against the shutdown, calling steps leading to it “irresponsible.” U.S. Rep. Jared Golden has joined with some colleagues to pursue a piece of legislation that would keep the federal government open until Jan. 11.

And in a recent Sunday commentary in these pages (“America needs stability, not standoffs,” Sept. 17), U.S. Sen. Angus King made a case for a bipartisan proposal he has worked on with U.S. Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican. The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, in King’s words, “forces Congress to do its job.”

“If it were up to me,” King wrote, “I’d have the Senate and House lock ourselves in a room and hammer out a road forward together on a bipartisan basis. This bill is the closest thing to that sort of thing we were able to turn into legislation.”

The proposal would provide for a two-week spending cushion, maintaining operations at previous levels. It would eliminate funding for congressional travel until a budget passed. And, in service to the passing of that budget, the only legislative activity that would be permitted until it passed would be budget negotiation.

It’s a desperately sad reflection of contemporary politics that this – basic governance – is something that has to be legislated for. At times as fraught and challenged as these, however, it’s really hard to see other ways through.

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