The History of Government Shutdowns and How Long They Last


The U.S. is on the verge of a 22nd government shutdown in five decades, with Congress facing a Sept. 30 deadline to pass appropriations bills to fund the government.

Why it matters: Under a government shutdown, non-essential federal functions are suspended. Systems including health programs, Social Security and Medicare, SNAP benefits, Food and Drug Administration inspections and small business loans would be affected.

  • All employees — those who stop working and those whose roles are deemed “excepted” — aren’t paid during the shutdown. Their paychecks catch up when operations resume.

At 34 days, the longest government shutdown was also the most recent, from late 2018 to early 2019, during former President Donald Trump’s administration.

  • The shutdown ended with a concession from Trump on immigration, as he did not receive the funding he had demanded for a border wall.
  • This time around, Trump has lent his support to the Republican holdouts who oppose any compromises to keep the government running.
  • Between the lines: Past shutdowns have often pitted the party in control of Congress against the president. In this case, it has to do more with dynamics within the House Republican caucus, with hardliners opposing spending agreements endorsed by their own leadership.

Previously, the longest shutdown lasted 21 days, from 1995 to 1996, under then-President Bill Clinton, who was at an impasse with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

  • Republicans wanted to balance the budget by cutting social programs and repealing Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
  • “It was all a blame game, who was going to get blamed, and the Republicans were hoping that Clinton would get the bigger share of the blame, but in the end, they got the share of the blame in the public’s mind,” said Leon Panetta, Clinton’s then-chief of staff, per UVA.

Funding for abortion procedures — in particular whether and how to allow Medicaid to pay for them — was part of the reason for three shutdowns during former President Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

  • Meanwhile, former President Ronald Reagan saw a record eight government shutdowns during his time in office, often over spending on domestic versus defense matters.
  • Republican opposition to Obamacare was the primary cause of a 2013 shutdown under former President Barack Obama.

Flashback: Prior to the 1980s, federal agencies continued to operate without appropriations under the assumption that funding would come in the future, according to the House of Representatives archives.

  • In 1980 and 1981, U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti established the basis for government shutdowns still in use today.
  • “Civiletti called for a stricter interpretation of the Antideficiency Act, a longstanding law that prohibits government agencies from authorizing expenditures in excess of the amount Congress provided them by law,” per the archives.
  • “Ultimately, the Attorney General believed government agencies had no legal means to operate during a funding gap.”

Source : Axious