It seems to have become a common occurrence in our government today — a shutdown. I can’t say that I watched a lot of CSPAN as a teenager, but I don’t seem to remember an excessive number of shutdowns when I was younger. So when did they start? Why do they happen? How long can a government shutdown last? How can we best cope with them?
Before 1990, government shutdowns only lasted a single day. Three shutdowns occurred throughout the 80s, in 1980, 1981, 1984, and 1986. These one-day shutdowns still caused a huge number of furloughs and enormous cost to the federal government, topping out at $65 million in 1984. Theshutdowns during the Reagan years resulted from a variety of disagreements between the President and Congress. 80s-style shutdowns often only lasted between 12-14 hours.
In 1990, a three-day shutdown occurred under President George H. W. Bush. Between 1995 and 1996, however, things took a turn, and a 21-day shutdown occurred under President Bill Clinton. Despite the unprecedented shutdown, which caused a record-tying 800,000 workers to be furloughed, Clinton would be reelectedeasily in the fall of 1996. He also won with the largest margin of victory on record since Reagan’s re-election in 1984, and a whopping 379 electoral votes.
The government would remain generally functional until 2013, when a dispute between the second term Obama White House, the Democratic-led Senate, and the Republican-led House shut down the government for 16 days starting on October 1st. It didn’t beat the previous record of 21 days, but it started to make people again wonder how long a government shut down could last.
As had been predicted, the election of Donald Trump led to unprecedented government dysfunction. There was a three-day shutdown in January 2018, a nine-hour shutdown in February of that same year, and then the biggest of them all later that year.
The shutdown that began on December 22nd, 2018, just in time for Christmas, and lasted until January 25th, 2019. The shutdownresulted from a dispute between President Trump and the Democratic controlled House over funding for the wall along the US-Mexico border. While fewer workers were furloughed during that time than during Obama’s shutdown, Trump’s long shutdown cost more than twice as much — about $5 billion dollars, in part due to repayment from furloughs.
For furloughed workers, Christmas 2018 was a little leaner, asone federal worker told Buzzfeed. Not only do federal shutdowns affect government employees, but businesses all around Washington D.C. Local restaurants and shops felt the squeeze, as business as usual ground to a halt.
It will go down in Trump’s legacy that he tested the limits of how long a government shutdown could last. Hopefully, the future will bring about a period of partisan cooperation. If the federal government could go from 1996 to 2013 without a shutdown, we can hope for the future.