The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is a political science professor at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
When Maine Senate Republicans acted alone to block home heating help, it was easy to tag it as hypocrisy. After all, through the 2022 campaigns, their party focused on high oil and gas prices, misleading voters about nonexistent energy tax increases and proposing no real solutions.
But what happened with the heating aid was more than cynically misleading voters. Some Senate Republicans claimed that some of the help to keep people warm wasn’t actually needed, because the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is “fully funded” through July.
This looks like pure gaslighting to me.
That’s because the HEAP program, also known as LIHEAP, is inadequately funded even though it has funds. As the director of the Maine State Housing Authority noted, because the cost of heating oil is higher, the same money won’t go as far. So “more people will be facing an emergency situation because they simply won’t be getting as much fuel as they did last year,” the director noted.
Because the LIHEAP eligibility limit for a two person household is just $27,465 before taxes, others also need assistance to stay warm.
This is not to say the emergency bill was perfect. I preferred not including Mainers with much higher incomes. But let’s remember it was Republicans who wanted to deliver checks to couples making up to $200,000.
Thus the whole incident looks like a combination of Republicans in disarray and an effort to thwart Gov. Mills after she had what a Bangor Daily News reporter described as “victories in sizable GOP-leaning communities” and after the GOP met none of their electoral goals.
Moreover, this very well could be Maine Republicans’ apex of power in this legislative session. Because timing requires passing home heating assistance as an emergency measure (which needs a two-thirds vote in each chamber), they can impede it. However, because Republicans lack majorities, they won’t be able to stop Democrats on many matters.
Meanwhile in Congress, Republicans will be gaslighting and generating chaos in two ways.
One, they’ll probably try to obstruct normal governance by trying to coerce President Joe Biden to cut Social Security and Medicare, two incredibly effective and popular policies.
Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott put out a plan to cut both programs before the election, garnering pushback from Biden. But it wasn’t just Scott who proposed pursuing these horrible policies. As Bloomberg Government reported, “The Republican Study Committee, the largest group of House Republicans, released a budget plan in June that called on lawmakers to gradually raise the Medicare age of eligibility to 67 and the Social Security eligibility to 70 before indexing both to life expectancy.”
Then after the election Republican Sen. John Thune said his party may threaten not to raise the debt limit — a step that would cause major economic harm — in order to raise the Social Security retirement age.
With fewer years of benefits, older people would receive less money and may not be able to afford to retire. Yet GOP advocates of these cuts gaslight the public by saying they’re “strengthening” Social Security and Medicare, while the debt limit threat is chaos politics. President Biden has pledged to stand firm against both.
Second, House Republicans are ready to take up a good deal of time with phony scandals — a clear contrast with their pre-election focus on inflation and the economy.
One of those faux scandals involves Hunter Biden’s laptop. Republicans’ purported smoking gun is an email about “10 percent for the big guy,” which they say shows corruption by Joe Biden. However, while it refers to an attempted a business deal with Joe Biden’s son and brother, there is no evidence Joe Biden was involved. Moreover, this failed deal took place when Joe Biden wasn’t in office and an analysis by two security experts published in March 2022 by the Washington Post found the email mentioning this, along with many other emails, “could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures.”
It’s also striking that some of the Republicans most involved in promoting this fake scandal were pushing election denial conspiracy theories in late 2020 and early 2021 — both publicly and in communications to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Despite Americans wanting politicians to focus on issues that affect them, unfortunately the new year is poised to bring gaslighting and chaos politics from many state and national Republicans. It may take more poor election results for them to realize that it would be better to pursue good policies.