Government shutdowns in the United States

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In United States politics, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass or the President fails to sign appropriations: legislation funding federal government operations and agencies. In this case, the current interpretation of the Antideficiency Act requires that the federal government begin a "shutdown" of the affected activities involving the furlough of non-essential personnel and curtailment of agency activities and services. Since 1976, when the current budget and appropriations process was enacted, there have been twenty gaps in budget funding, eight of which led to federal employees being furloughed. Prior to 1990, funding gaps did not always lead to government shutdowns, but since 1990 the practice has been to shut down the government for all funding gaps. Shutdowns have also occurred at the state, territorial and local levels of government.

During the Ronald 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 Bill Clinton administration, there were two full government shutdowns during 1995 and 1996 lasting five and twenty-one days respectively, based on disagreement on whether to cut government services, leading to furloughs and significant disruption. During the Barack Obama administration, a government shutdown occurred during October 1–16, 2013. The primary dispute was the Republicans' desire to delay or defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare.[1] Under the Donald Trump administration, a shutdown occurred from January 20–22, 2018, and then a funding gap occurred overnight for the first part of the day on 9 February 2018 that did not result in workers being furloughed.[2][3]

Government shutdowns have the effect of disruption to government services and increased cost to the government due to lost labor. During the 2013 shutdown, Standard & Poor's, the financial ratings agency, stated on October 16 that the shutdown had "to date taken $24 billion out of the economy," and "shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth."[4]


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, and—upon passage of a final version by both houses—then go to the President of the United States. If the President signs the bills, they become law. If instead the President vetoes them, 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 shutdowns, 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.[6] 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.[7]

Shutdowns of the type experienced by the United States are possible in other countries that have presidential systems; however, they are nearly impossible in other forms of government. 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. Even without an approved budget, the one from the previous year is usually used automatically. In many other non-parliamentary democracies, a strong executive branch typically has the authority to keep the government functioning even without an approved budget.[8]


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. 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.[9]

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,[10] confidence in the job market recovered within a month of the 2013 shutdown,[11][12] and GDP growth slowed only 0.1–0.2%.[10] Still, the loss of GDP from a shutdown is a bigger sum than it would cost to keep the government open.[13]

However, the complete effects of a shutdown are often clouded by missing data that cannot be collected while specific government offices are closed.[10]

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.[17][18] Members of Congress continue to be paid, because their pay cannot be altered except by direct law.[19] Mail delivery is not affected as it is self-funded and the funds are not appropriated by Congress.[20] 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.[6]

Shutdowns in the past have also affected the Washington, D.C. municipal government, closing schools and suspending utilities such as garbage collection.[21]

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.[7] 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;[22] a three-day funding gap in November 1983 reportedly led to no disruption to government services;[7] and in 1984 it was considered rare for a funding gap to cause federal employees to be actually ordered to cease work.[23]


On May 1, 1980, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was shut down for one day after Congress failed to pass an appropriations bill for the agency. It occurred just days after the issuance of Civiletti's opinion on April 25.[24] This was the first time a federal agency shut down due to a budget dispute.[25] Federal Marshals were deployed to some FTC facilities to enforce the shutdown.[26] 1,600 workers were furloughed, and the shutdown cost $700,000.[24][27]

1981, 1984, and 1986[edit]

A recorded message used by the White House telephone switchboard during the 1981 shutdown

On November 23, 1981, 241,000 federal employees were furloughed for one day.[28] The shutdown occurred because President Ronald Reagan vetoed a spending bill that contained a smaller set of spending cuts than he had proposed.[29] The shutdown was estimated to cost taxpayers $80–90 million in back pay and other expenses.[28] Not all government departments shut down during the funding gap.[30]

On October 4, 1984, 500,000 federal employees were furloughed for one afternoon.[28] 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.[29] The shutdown only covered nine out of the 13 appropriations bills that had not been passed at that point.[23] Back pay was estimated at $65 million.[28]

On October 17, 1986, 500,000 federal employees were furloughed for one afternoon over a wide range of issues.[28][29] The cost was estimated at $62 million in lost work.[28]


The 1990 shutdown occurred over Columbus Day weekend, from Saturday, October 6 through Monday, October 8.[28] 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",[31] leading to a revolt led by then House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich that defeated the initial appropriations package.[32][33] 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.[28] Around 2,800 workers were furloughed, with the government losing $2.57 million in lost revenue and back wages.[34]


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.[6]


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

The 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days, beginning on October 1, 2013. During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed for 16 days, while another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates.[35] 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[36] and conservative groups such as Heritage Action,[37][38][39] 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.[40][41][42] 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.[43]


The first shutdown of 2018 began at midnight EST on January 20. On January 19, a bill failed to pass the Senate 50–49 with the majority of Democrats voting "no".[44] Five Republicans voted "no" and five Democrats voted "yes" in the Republican majority senate (60 votes were required for passage). Senate Democrats insisted that the issue of immigration, specifically the funding of DACA, be addressed in the budget. Republicans refused to include the issue, saying that the deadline for DACA and immigration was not until mid-March.[45][46] A stop-gap that would fund the government for four weeks passed the House of Representatives, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell proposed a three-week stop-gap.[44] The government reopened on January 23.[47]

The second funding gap of 2018 began at midnight EST on February 9. It was the second shutdown in a month. [48] President Trump in the morning hours of February 9, signed the bill into law, stopping the second government shutdown. The spending bill included an increase to the country's borrowing limit and funded the government through March 23, 2018, disaster relief for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and a $300 billion for the other programs over two years, including the military. [49]

State and territory governments[edit]

Year Start date End date Total days Location References
1991 Jul 1 Jul 17 17  Maine [50]
1991 Jul 1 Aug 23 54  Connecticut [50]
1991 Jul 2 Aug 4 34  Pennsylvania [50]
1992 Jul 1 Sep 1 63  California [51]
2002 Jul 1 Jul 3 3  Tennessee [52][50]
2005 Jul 1 Jul 9 9  Minnesota [53]
2006 May 1 May 13 13  Puerto Rico
2006 Jul 1 Jul 8 8  New Jersey [54]
2007 Oct 1 Oct 1 1  Michigan [55]
2007 Jul 11 Jul 12 1  Pennsylvania [56][57]
2009 Oct 1 Oct 1 1  Michigan [58]
2011 Jul 1 Jul 20 20  Minnesota
2015 Jul 1 Jul 6 6  Illinois
2017 Jul 1 Jul 4 3  New Jersey [59][60]
2017 Jul 1 Jul 4 4  Maine [61]

County governments[edit]

Year Start date End date Total days Location References
2005 Feb 7 Feb 7 1 Erie County, New York [62][63][64]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Curry, Tom (September 29, 2013). "Chances of averting government shutdown appear slim". NBC News. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  2. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay; Kaplan, Thomas (January 21, 2018). "Government Shutdown Begins as Budget Talks Falter in Senate". Retrieved January 21, 2018 – via
  3. ^ CNN, Lauren Fox, Phil Mattingly, Ted Barrett, Daniella Diaz and Deirdre Walsh,. "Government shuts down as lawmakers still searching for a deal". Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  4. ^ Walshe, Shushannah (October 17, 2013). "The Costs of the Government Shutdown". Archived from the original on September 12, 2017. 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 Brass, Clinton T. (November 30, 2017). "Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects" (PDF). Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Tollestrup, Jessica (October 11, 2013). "Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview". Congressional Research Service. p. 4. Retrieved May 14, 2017.[dead link]
  8. ^ Zurcher, Anthony (October 1, 2013). "US Shutdown Has Other Nations Confused and Concerned". BBC News. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  9. ^ Liberto, Jennifer (September 25, 2013). "Federal workers: Hand over BlackBerry during shutdown". CNN. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c Economist, The (October 5, 2013). "Closed until further notice". The Economist. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  11. ^ Randstad USA. "U.S. Worker Confidence Level Weakens Amid Government Shutdown". Randstad USA. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  12. ^ Randstad USA. "Employee Confidence Rebounds in Month Following Shutdown". Randstad USA. Retrieved August 14, 2014.
  13. ^ "Rand Paul rightly says the government shutdown was more expensive than keeping it open". @politifact. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  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.
  16. ^ a b O'Keefe, Ed; Kane, Paul (April 2, 2011). "Government Shutdown: Frequently Asked Questions". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  17. ^ Riley, Charles (April 6, 2011). "Shutdown: 800,000 Federal Workers in the Dark". CNN Money. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  18. ^ Paletta, Damian (April 6, 2011). "Government Prepares for Shutdown". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  19. ^ Shear, Michael (April 7, 2011). "Will Members of Congress Get Paid in a Shutdown?". The Caucus (blog of The New York Times). Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  20. ^ Kolawole, Emi (April 8, 2011). "Government Shutdown 2011: Will I Get Paid? What Will Be Open? What Can I Expect?". Federal Eye (blog of The Washington Post). Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  21. ^ Jouvenal, Justin (April 8, 2011). "Government Shutdown Could Prove Smelly for D.C". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  22. ^ Tolchin, Martin (October 1, 1982). "Conferees Adopt Stopgap Fund Bill". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  23. ^ a b Pear, Robert (October 4, 1984). "Senate Works Past Deadline On Catchall Government Spending Bill". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Barringer, Felicity (November 24, 1981). "Behind the Shutdown, a Long-Dormant Law". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  25. ^ Brown, Merrill (May 1, 1980). "FTC Temporarily Closed in Budget Dispute". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  26. ^ Brown, Merrill (May 2, 1980). "Congress Revives FTC With an Injection of Funds". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  27. ^ Cass, Connie (September 30, 2013). "A Complete Guide To Every Government Shutdown In History". Business Insider. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h Borkowski, Monica (1995-11-11). "Looking back: Previous Government Shutdowns". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-24.
  29. ^ a b c Matthews, Dylan (September 25, 2013). "Wonkblog: Here is every previous government shutdown, why they happened and how they ended". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  30. ^ Office (December 10, 1981). "Cost of the Recent Partial Shutdown of Government Offices". U.S. General Accounting Office (PAD-82–24).
  31. ^ "The Budget Battle: Countdown to Crisis: Reaching a 1991 Budget Agreement". The New York Times. October 9, 1990. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  32. ^ Yang, John E.; Kenworthy, Tom (October 5, 1990). "House Rejects Deficit-Reduction Agreement: Federal Shutdown Looms After Budget Vote". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  33. ^ Woodward, Bob (December 24, 2011). "In his debut in Washington's power struggles, Gingrich threw a bomb". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  34. ^ "Government Shutdown: Data on Effects of 1990 Columbus Day Weekend Funding Lapse". U.S. General Accounting Office. October 19, 1990. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  35. ^ Plumer, Brad (September 30, 2013). "Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work". Wonk Blog, The Washington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  36. ^ Barro, Josh (September 17, 2013). "Ted Cruz Is Making Life Miserable For House Republicans". Business Insider.
  37. ^ Moody, Chris (October 9, 2013). "Meet one of the conservative advocacy groups behind the GOP's government shutdown strategy". Yahoo! News.
  38. ^ Joseph, Cameron (October 9, 2013). "Heritage Action leader: Paul Ryan's shutdown offer off-target". The Hill.
  39. ^ Miller, Zeke J (September 30, 2013). "Hidden Hand: How Heritage Action Drove DC To Shut Down". Time.
  40. ^ House passes spending bill to defund Obamacare, Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times, September 20, 2013
  41. ^ House GOP launches shutdown battle by voting to defund Obamacare, Tom Cohen, CNN, September 20, 2013
  42. ^ Espo, David (September 30, 2013). "Republican Unity Frays As Government Shutdown Looms". Huffington Post. AOL. Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  43. ^ Cohen, Tom (October 17, 2013). "House approves bill to end shutdown". CNN International. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
  44. ^ a b Times, The New York (2018). "Government Shuts Down as Bill to Extend Funding Is Blocked; Senate Adjourns for the Night". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  45. ^ Shaw, Adam (2018-01-20). "Government braces for shutdown as Senate fails to meet deadline for spending deal". Fox News. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  46. ^ Ferrechio, Susan. "Democrats under pressure to block spending bill over Dreamers". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  47. ^ CNN, Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, Daniella Diaz and Ashley Killough,. "Congress approves plan to end shutdown, reopen government". CNN. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  48. ^ Taylor, Andrew. "Congress stumbles into gov't shutdown, budget deal stalled". Associated Press. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  49. ^ Brown, Michael. "Trump signs $400 billion spending deal reached by Congress". Fox News. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  50. ^ a b c d Scheck, Tom (July 8, 2011). "Shutdown Day 8: All quiet as record book awaits". Minnesota Public Radio.
  51. ^ "Senate, Assembly OK Budget; Wilson Awaits Final Package". Los Angeles Times. August 30, 1992.
  52. ^ "Tennessee Government in Partial Shutdown". Free Republic. Associated Press. July 1, 2002.
  53. ^ "Minnesota Experiences Unprecedented Government Shutdown Due to a Budget Deadlock". OMB Watch. 6 (14). July 11, 2005. Archived from the original on February 13, 2011.
  54. ^ Richard C. Jones (July 7, 2006). "Deal on Sales Tax Ends Shutdown in New Jersey". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  55. ^ Nick Bunkley (October 1, 2007). "Michigan Government Shutdown Ends". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  56. ^ "Pa. State Agencies Back in Operation After Budget Deal Struck".
  57. ^ "Central PA Local News –". Retrieved September 27, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  58. ^ Jonathan Oosting (October 6, 2013). "Government shutdown? Michigan has been there, done that and moved on". M-Live. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  59. ^ Corasaniti, Nick (June 30, 2017). "New Jersey Government Shuts Down Over Budget Standoff" – via
  60. ^ "It's a done deal: Christie will end state shutdown in time for July 4, sources say".
  61. ^ "With no budget deal, Maine partially shuts its government". Boston Globe. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  62. ^ "Budget Mess Hits Cultural Groups". The Buffalo News. February 7, 2005.
  63. ^ "County Leaders Brace for Closings". The Buffalo News. February 21, 2005.
  64. ^ "Services Shut Down as County Fails to Pay Up". The Buffalo News. July 3, 2005.

External links[edit]