Government shutdown in the United States

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Letter from President Obama to US Government employees affected by the shutdown in 2013

In United States politics, a government shutdown is the process the Executive Branch must enter into when Congress and the President fail to pass legislation funding government operations and agencies. If interim or full-year appropriations are not enacted into law, the current interpretation of the Antideficiency Act requires that the federal government begin a "shutdown" of the affected activities, often involving the furlough of non-essential personnel and curtailment of agency activities and services. Programs that are funded by laws other than annual appropriations acts (like Social Security) also may be affected by a funding gap, if program execution relies on activities that receive annually appropriated funding.[1] Although the term government shutdown usually refers to what occurs at the federal level, shutdowns have also occurred at the state/territorial and local levels of government.

Since 1976, when the current budget and appropriations process was enacted, there have been eighteen (18) gaps in budget funding, seven of which led to federal employees being furloughed. During the Reagan administration, there were three funding gaps leading to shutdowns lasting one day or less. A funding gap in 1990 during the George H. W. Bush administration caused a weekend shutdown. During the Clinton administration, there were two full government shutdowns during 1995 and 1996 lasting 5 and 21 days respectively, the longest to that date, leading to furloughs and significant disruption. The president and congress disagreed on whether to cut government services.

During Barack Obama's presidency, the United States federal government shutdown of 2013 ran from October 1 to 16, 2013. The primary issue of dispute between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate was the Republicans' desire to delay or defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), signed into law in 2010.[2] A bill to end the shutdown and fund federal agencies through January 15, 2014, passed the Senate and the House and was signed into law on October 17, 2013.[3] Standard & Poor's, the financial ratings agency, stated on October 16 that the shutdown had "to date has taken $24 billion out of the economy," and "shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth."[4]

Mechanism[edit]

Under the separation of powers created by the United States Constitution, the United States Congress has the sole power of the purse and responsibility for appropriating government funds. The appropriations bills must start in the House of Representatives and then be approved by the Senate, which upon passage of a final version by both houses then go to the President of the United States. If the President signs or ignores the bills, they become law. If the President vetoes the bills, they go back to Congress, where the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote. Government shutdowns tend to occur when the President and one or both of the chambers of Congress are unable to resolve disagreements over budget allocations before the existing budget cycle ends.[5]

Initially, many federal agencies continued to operate during a shutdown, while minimizing all nonessential operations and obligations, believing that Congress did not intend that agencies close down while waiting for the enactment of annual appropriations acts or temporary appropriations. In 1980 and 1981, however, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued two opinions that more strictly interpreted the Antideficiency Act in the context of a funding gap, along with its exceptions. The opinions stated that, with some exceptions, the head of an agency could avoid violating the Act only by suspending the agency’s operations until the enactment of an appropriation. In the absence of appropriations, exceptions would be allowed only when there is some reasonable and articulable connection between the function to be performed and the safety of human life or the protection of property.[1] However, even after the Civiletti opinions, not all funding gaps led to shutdowns. Of the nine funding gaps between 1980 and 1990, only four led to furloughs.[6]

Shutdowns of the type experienced by the United States are nearly impossible in other democracies. Under the parliamentary system used in most European nations, the executive and legislative branch are not separate, with the parliament designating all executive officials, typically called "ministers", and typically an election is triggered if a budget fails to pass. In many other non-parliamentary democracies, a strong executive branch typically has the authority to keep the government functioning even without an approved budget.[7]

Effects[edit]

Units of the National Park System are closed during a federal government shutdown. Shown here is the National Mall closed during the 2013 shutdown.

While government shutdowns prior to the 1995–1996 shutdowns had very mild effects, a full federal government shutdown causes a large number of civilian federal employees to be furloughed. Active duty military personnel (those on Title 10 status) and employees excepted by the Antideficiency Act are not furloughed, but may not be paid as scheduled[8][9] for the period of the furlough. During a government shutdown, furloughed government employees are prohibited from even checking their e-mail from home. To enforce this prohibition, many agencies require employees to return their government-issued electronic devices for the duration of the shutdown.[10]

Economic data shows that despite the inconvenience arising from a protracted government shutdown (such as the one seen in 2013), any GDP damage or falling job market confidence that results can be managed with relative ease. For example, despite seeing payment delayed to 1.3 million workers, and 800,000 employees locked out,[11] confidence in the job market recovered within a month of the 2013 shutdown,[12][13] and GDP growth slowed only 0.1-0.2%.[11]

However, the complete effects of a shutdown are often clouded by missing data that cannot be collected while specific government offices are closed.[11]

Additionally, some effects of the shutdown are difficult to directly measure, and are thought to cause residual impacts in the months following a shutdown. Some examples include destroyed scientific studies, lack of investment, and deferred maintenance costs.[14][15]

The exact details of which government functions stop during a shutdown is determined by the Office of Management and Budget.[16] "Emergency personnel" continue to be employed, including the active duty (Title 10) military, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and nurses working in federal hospitals, and air traffic controllers.[16] For the Department of Defense, at least half of the civilian workforce, and the full-time, dual-status military technicians in the US National Guard and traditional Guardsmen (those on Title 32 status) are furloughed and not paid while the shutdown is in effect. Members of Congress continue to be paid, because their pay cannot be altered except by direct law.[17] Mail delivery is not affected as it is self-funded and the funds are not appropriated by Congress.[18]

Shutdowns in the past have also affected the Washington, D.C., municipal government, closing schools and suspending utilities such as garbage collection.[19]

List of federal shutdowns[edit]

This list includes only funding gaps that led to actual employee furloughs. Not all funding gaps have led to shutdowns, even after the Civiletti opinions of 1980 and 1981.[6] For example, a brief funding gap in 1982 did not involve furloughs, with nonessential workers told to report to work but to cancel meetings and not perform their ordinary duties,[20] a three-day funding gap in November 1983 reportedly led to no disruption to government services,[6] and in 1984 it was considered rare for a funding gap to cause federal employees to be actually ordered to cease work.[21]

1981[edit]

On November 23, 1981, 241,000 federal employees were furloughed for one day.[22] The shutdown occurred because President Ronald Reagan vetoed a spending bill that contained a smaller set of spending cuts than he had proposed.[23] The shutdown was estimated to cost taxpayers $80–90 million in back pay and other expenses.[22] Not all government departments shut down during the funding gap.[24]

1984[edit]

On October 4, 1984, 500,000 federal employees were furloughed for one afternoon.[22] This shutdown occurred due to the inclusion of a water projects package and a civil rights measure that Reagan opposed. The bill was passed the following day after Congress removed these programs, and also included a compromise on funding of the Nicaraguan Contras.[23] The shutdown only covered nine out of the 13 appropriations bills that had not been passed at that point.[21] Back pay was estimated at $65 million.[22]

1986[edit]

On October 17, 1986, 500,000 federal employees were furloughed for one afternoon over a wide range of issues.[22][23] The cost was estimated at $62 million in lost work.[22]

1990[edit]

The 1990 shutdown occurred over Columbus Day weekend, from Saturday, October 6 through Monday, October 8.[22] The shutdown stemmed from the fact that a deficit reduction package negotiated by President George H. W. Bush contained tax increases, despite his campaign promise of "read my lips: no new taxes",[25] leading to a revolt led by then House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich that defeated the initial appropriations package.[26][27] Because the shutdown occurred over a weekend, the effects of the shutdown were lessened, with the National Parks and the Smithsonian museums being the most visible closures.[22] Around 2,800 workers were furloughed, with the government losing $2.57 million in lost revenue and back wages.[28]

1995–1996[edit]

The two shutdowns of 1995 and 1995–96 were the result of conflicts between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress over funding for Medicare, education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget. The government shut down after Clinton vetoed the spending bill the Republican Party-controlled Congress sent him. Government workers were furloughed and non-essential services suspended during November 14–19, 1995, and from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996, for a total of 27 days. The major players were President Clinton and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.

The first of the two shutdowns caused the furlough of about 800,000 workers, while the second caused about 284,000 workers to be furloughed.[1]

2013[edit]

The 2013 shutdown occurred during October 1–16, 2013. During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed, and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates.[29] The deadlock centered on the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014. The Republican-led House of Representatives, in part encouraged by conservative senators such as Ted Cruz[30] and conservative groups such as Heritage Action,[31][32][33] offered several continuing resolutions with language delaying or defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as "Obamacare"). The Democratic-led Senate passed several amended continuing resolutions for maintaining funding at then-current sequestration levels with no additional conditions. Political fights over this and other issues between the House on one side and President Barack Obama and the Senate on the other led to a budget impasse which threatened massive disruption.[34][35][36] Late in the evening of October 16, 2013, Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, and the President signed it shortly after midnight on October 17, ending the government shutdown and suspending the debt limit until February 7, 2014.[37]

List of federal funding gaps[edit]

Since 1976, when the United States budget process was revised by the Budget Act of 1974[38] the United States Federal Government has had funding gaps on 18 occasions.[39][23][40] Funding gaps did not lead to government shutdowns prior to 1980 when President Carter requested opinions from Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti on funding gaps and the Anti-Deficiency Act. His first opinion said that all government work must stop if Congress does not agree to pay for it. He later issued a second opinion that allowed essential government services to continue in the absence of a spending bill.[41][42] Only seven of the funding gaps led to employees actually being furloughed.[22][43]

Color legend
Democratic Party
Republican Party
Year Dates Total days Employees furloughed[22] Pres Sen Hse Circumstances
1976 Sep 30–
Oct 11
10 No Ford Dem Dem Citing out of control spending, President Gerald Ford vetoed a funding bill for the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), leading to a partial government shutdown. On October 1, the Democratically-controlled Congress overrode Ford's veto but it took until October 11 for a continuing resolution ending funding gaps for other parts of government to become law.
1977-09-30 Sep 30–
Oct 13
12 No Carter Dem Dem The Democratically-controlled House continued to uphold the ban on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother was at stake. Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate pressed to loosen the ban to allow abortion funding in the case of rape or incest. A funding gap was created when disagreement over the issue between the houses had become tied to funding for the Departments of Labor and HEW, leading to a partial government shutdown. A temporary agreement was made to restore funding through October 31, 1977, allowing more time for Congress to resolve its dispute.
1977-10-31 Oct 31–
Nov 9
8 No Carter Dem Dem The earlier temporary funding agreement expired. President Jimmy Carter signed a second funding agreement to allow for more time for negotiation.
1977-11-30 Nov 30–
Dec 9
8 No Carter Dem Dem The second temporary funding agreement expired. The House held firm against the Senate in its effort to ban Medicaid paying for the abortions of victims of statutory rape. A deal was eventually struck allowing Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases resulting from rape, incest, or in which the mother's health is at risk.
1978 Sep 30–
Oct 18
18 No Carter Dem Dem Deeming them wasteful, President Carter vetoed a public works appropriations bill and a defense bill including funding for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Spending for the Department of HEW was also delayed over additional disputes concerning Medicaid funding for abortion.
1979 Sep 30–
Oct 12
11 No Carter Dem Dem Against the opposition of the Senate, the House pushed for a 5.5 percent pay increase for Congress members and senior civil servants. The House also sought to restrict federal spending on abortion only to cases where the mother's life is in danger, while the Senate wanted to maintain funding for abortions in cases of rape and incest.
1981 Nov 20–
Nov 23
2 Yes Reagan Rep Dem President Ronald Reagan pledged that he would veto any spending bill that failed to include at least half of the $8.4 billion in domestic budget cuts that he proposed. Although the Republican controlled Senate passed a bill that met his specifications, the Democratically controlled House insisted on larger cuts to defense than Reagan wanted as well as pay raises for Congress and senior civil servants. A compromise bill fell $2 billion short of the cuts Reagan wanted, so Reagan vetoed the bill and shut down the federal government. A temporary bill restored spending through December 15 and gave Congress the time to work out a more lasting deal.
1982-09-30 Sep 30–
Oct 2
1 No Reagan Rep Dem Congress passed the required spending bills a day late.
1982-12-17 Dec 17–
Dec 21
3 No Reagan Rep Dem The House and Senate wished to fund job programs, but President Reagan vowed to veto any such legislation. The House also opposed plans to fund the MX missile. The shutdown ended after Congress abandoned their jobs plan, but Reagan was forced to yield on funding for both the MX and Pershing II missiles. He also accepted funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which he wanted abolished, in exchange for higher foreign aid to Israel.
1983 Nov 10–
Nov 14
3 No Reagan Rep Dem The House increased education funding but cut defense and foreign aid spending, which led to a dispute with President Reagan. Eventually, the House reduced their proposed education funding, and also accepted funding for the MX missile. However, the foreign aid and defense cuts remained, and oil and gas leasing was banned in federal wildlife refuges. Abortion was also prohibited from being paid for with government employee health insurance.
1984 Sep 30–
Oct 3
2 No Reagan Rep Dem The House wished to link the budget to both a crime-fighting package President Reagan supported and a water projects package he did not. The Senate additionally tied the budget to a civil rights measure designed to overturn Grove City v. Bell. Reagan proposed a compromise where he abandoned his crime package in exchange for Congress dropping the water projects package. A deal was not struck, and a three-day spending extension was passed instead.
1984 Oct 3–
Oct 5
1 Yes Reagan Rep Dem The October 3 spending extension expired, forcing a shutdown. Congress dropped its proposed water and civil rights packages, while President Reagan kept his crime package. Funding for aid to the Nicaraguan Contras was also passed.
1986 Oct 16–
Oct 18
1 Yes Reagan Rep Dem Disputes over multiple issues between the House and President Reagan and the Republican Senate forced a shutdown. The House dropped many of their demands in exchange for a vote on their welfare package, and a concession of the sale of then-government-owned Conrail.
1987 Dec 18–
Dec 20
1 No Reagan Dem Dem The House and Senate opposed funding for the Contras and wanted the Federal Communications Commission to renew enforcement of the "Fairness Doctrine". They yielded on the "Fairness Doctrine" issue in exchange for non-lethal aid to the Contras.
1990 Oct 5–
Oct 9
5 Yes G. H. W. Bush Dem Dem President George H. W. Bush vowed to veto any continuing resolution that was not paired with a deficit reduction package, and did so when one reached his desk. The House failed to override his veto before a shutdown occurred. Congress then passed a continuing resolution with a deficit reduction package to end the shutdown.[44]
1995 Nov 13–
Nov 19
5 Yes Clinton Rep Rep President Bill Clinton vetoed a continuing resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. A deal was reached allowing for 75-percent funding for four weeks, and Clinton agreed to a seven-year timetable for a balanced budget.
1995–1996 Dec 15–
Jan 6
21 Yes Clinton Rep Rep The Republicans demanded that President Clinton propose a budget with the seven-year timetable using Congressional Budget Office numbers, rather than Clinton's Office of Management and Budget numbers. However, Clinton refused. Eventually, Congress and Clinton agreed to pass a compromise budget.
2013 Sep 30–
Oct 17
16 Yes Obama Dem Rep Due to disagreement regarding inclusion of language defunding or delaying the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA),[2] more commonly known as ObamaCare, the Government did not pass a substantial funding bill. Funding was agreed to by the President and Congress for active military pay and back wages for furloughed employees. In addition, the House offered very small funding measures for a few, high-profile functions, which the Senate and White House rejected as "game-playing"[45] while the Senate offered bills that did not include language to defund or delay the PPACA, but the House rejected them.[46] On October 16, Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal that extended funding for government services until January 15, making only minor adjustments to the PPACA and other funding. This resolution was quickly adopted by both houses in bipartisan numbers, and was signed early next morning by President Obama.[47]

State and territory governments[edit]

Year Start date End date Total days Location References
1991 Jul 1 Jul 17 17  Maine [48]
1991 Jul 1 Aug 23 54  Connecticut [48]
1991 Jul 2 Aug 4 34  Pennsylvania [48]
2002 Jul 1 Jul 3 3  Tennessee [49][48]
2005 Jul 1 Jul 9 9  Minnesota [50]
2006 May 1 May 13 13  Puerto Rico
2006 Jul 1 Jul 8 8  New Jersey [51]
2007 Oct 1 Oct 1 1  Michigan [52]
2007 Jul 11 Jul 12 1  Pennsylvania [53][54]
2009 Oct 1 Oct 1 1  Michigan [55]
2011 Jul 1 Jul 20 20  Minnesota
2015 Jul 1 Jul 6, 2017 735  Illinois
2017 Jul 1 Jul 4 3  New Jersey [56][57]
2017 Jul 1 July 4 4  Maine [58]

County governments[edit]

Year Start date End date Total days Location References
2005 Feb 7 Feb 7 1 Erie County, New York [59][60][61]

See also[edit]

U.S.[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ "Obama signs budget deal; government to reopen Thursday". CNBC/Reuters. October 16, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 
  4. ^ Walshe, Shushannah (October 17, 2013). "The Costs of the Government Shutdown". Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  5. ^ Wearden, Graeme (September 30, 2013). "US Shutdown: A Guide for Non-Americans – The American Government Has Begun Shutting Its Non-Essential Services. Why? And What Will It Mean?". The Guardian. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Tollestrup, Jessica (2013-10-11). "Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview". Congressional Research Service. p. 4. Retrieved 2017-05-14. 
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  8. ^ Riley, Charles (April 6, 2011). "Shutdown: 800,000 Federal Workers in the Dark". CNN Money. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
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  11. ^ a b c Economist, The (October 5, 2013). "Closed until further notice". The Economist. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ Randstad USA. "U.S. Worker Confidence Level Weakens Amid Government Shutdown". www.randstadusa.com. Randstad USA. Retrieved July 26, 2014. 
  13. ^ Randstad USA. "Employee Confidence Rebounds in Month Following Shutdown". www.randstadusa.com. Randstad USA. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  14. ^ Coggan, Philip (October 21, 2013). "Main Street's Revenge". The Economist. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  15. ^ Cross, Tim (October 16, 2013). "Robot-Aided, Mass-Murder Jellyfish Orgy". The Economist. Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
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  30. ^ Barro, Josh (September 17, 2013). "Ted Cruz Is Making Life Miserable For House Republicans". Business Insider. 
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  34. ^ House passes spending bill to defund Obamacare, Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times, September 20, 2013
  35. ^ House GOP launches shutdown battle by voting to defund Obamacare, Tom Cohen, CNN, September 20, 2013
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  45. ^ Staff (October 2, 2013). "House to Try Again to Pass 3 Emergency Funding Bills Amid Government Slimdown". Fox News. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  46. ^ Staff (September 30, 2013). "Senate Rejects House Bill; GOP to Offer New Bill This Evening". CNBC. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  47. ^ Cohen, Tom; Botelho, Greg; Yan, Holly (October 17, 2013). "Obama signs budget deal; government to reopen Thursday". CNN. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
    "Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2775 | The White House". Whitehouse.gov. October 17, 2013. Retrieved November 5, 2013. 
  48. ^ a b c d Scheck, Tom (July 8, 2011). "Shutdown Day 8: All quiet as record book awaits". Minnesota Public Radio. 
  49. ^ "Tennessee Government in Partial Shutdown". Free Republic. Associated Press. July 1, 2002. 
  50. ^ "Minnesota Experiences Unprecedented Government Shutdown Due to a Budget Deadlock". OMB Watch. 6 (14). July 11, 2005. 
  51. ^ Richard C. Jones (July 7, 2006). "Deal on Sales Tax Ends Shutdown in New Jersey". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2017. 
  52. ^ Nick Bunkley (October 1, 2007). "Michigan Government Shutdown Ends". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2017. 
  53. ^ "Pa. State Agencies Back in Operation After Budget Deal Struck". 
  54. ^ "Central PA Local News –". Pennlive.com. Retrieved September 27, 2013. 
  55. ^ Jonathan Oosting (October 6, 2013). "Government shutdown? Michigan has been there, done that and moved on". M-Live. Retrieved July 1, 2017. 
  56. ^ Corasaniti, Nick (June 30, 2017). "New Jersey Government Shuts Down Over Budget Standoff" – via NYTimes.com. 
  57. ^ "It's a done deal: Christie will end state shutdown in time for July 4, sources say". 
  58. ^ "With no budget deal, Maine partially shuts its government". Boston Globe. Retrieved July 1, 2017. 
  59. ^ "Budget Mess Hits Cultural Groups". The Buffalo News. February 7, 2005. 
  60. ^ "County Leaders Brace for Closings". The Buffalo News. February 21, 2005. 
  61. ^ "Services Shut Down as County Fails to Pay Up". The Buffalo News. July 3, 2005. 

External links[edit]