Government Shutdown Forum Features Three Expert Faculty Members

In the midst of the first governmental shutdown since 1995, the Department of History and Social Science hosted an informational forum and Q&A last Thursday evening.

Planned in response to student interest, the panel featured Christopher Jones, Instructor in History and Social Science, Christopher Shaw, Chair and Instructor in History and Social Science, and Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director. The three shared their knowledge on the shutdown’s relation to politics, the economy and health insurance, respectively.

“All of you who have been following the news at all are aware of this knock-down, drag-out fight over Obamacare. This current confrontation has pitted opponents of the law with proponents of the law over and within the realm of funding the government,” said Jones in his opening remarks.

Every fiscal year, Congress passes a budget that provides funding for federal programs. However, since this year’s need for a new budget coincided with the October 1 effective date for many of the provisions of Obamacare, Congress launched into an extensive but inconclusive debate over the contents of the Affordable Care Act.

“It is that small group of Republican extremists in the House of Representatives who want to end Obamacare and who have made it clear to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that they cannot under any circumstances bring the bill that will fund the government to the floor of the House,” said Jones.

The Individual Mandate, a critical provision of Obamacare that requires that every American purchases health insurance, has come under fire in budget talks. This specification will oblige young and healthy people, many of whom have historically chosen not to buy health insurance, to purchase insurance or pay a tax. The Individual Mandate is intended to offset some of the costs of healthcare and provide healthcare insurance to all, according to Patel.

“There are about 26 million people who are currently uninsured for a variety of reasons. Some people cannot afford health insurance, and others don’t want to pay for it because they are healthy and young and don’t feel as though they need it,” said Patel.

Shaw named three critical economic elements contributing to the current impasse in Washington: the deficit, the debt and the debt limit. The deficit is the excess of spending over revenue for the U.S. government in any given fiscal year. Debt is the total amount of debt issued and outstanding by the U.S. government, and is currently at over $16 trillion, said Shaw. The debt limit is the absolute limit on the total debt of the United States.

“When the U.S. government, which is the largest employer in the United States, shuts down, people get really nervous all around the world,” said Shaw.

One million government employees are expected to continue working but will not be paid immediately, and 800,000 government employees are furloughed.

Jones said that informational forums like Thursday’s, which was titled “How can the U.S. Government ‘Shut Down?’” have occurred in the past and were previously encouraged by Victor Henningsen ’69, former Instructor in History.

“When we go into this mode we are trying to explain stuff to students in a way that is non-political, honest and as clear as we can make it. We know students trust us with this, and that is a huge responsibility,” said Shaw.