As we talk about another potential federal government shutdown, you might be surprised to learn that their frequency is much lower than it used to be. While there were 8 shutdowns in the 1980s, there were only 3 in the 90s, and none from 2000-2010. Government shutdowns in the United States trace their origins back to 1980 when Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion necessitating their occurrence. While adherence to this opinion was inconsistent throughout the 1980s, since 1990, any funding gap lasting longer than a few hours has consistently resulted in a government shutdown. As of September 2023, there have been ten instances of funding shutdowns leading to the furloughing of federal employees.
While the frequency is lower, the lengths have become longer, with the past three averaging 17 days long. The most notable shutdowns include the 21-day closure in 1995-1996 during the Bill Clinton administration, driven by opposition to substantial spending cuts. In 2013, during the Barack Obama administration, a 16-day shutdown ensued due to a dispute over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The longest of these shutdowns occurred from 2018 to 2019, spanning 35 days during the Donald Trump administration. It was triggered by a disagreement over funding for the expansion of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
When will the next shutdown happen? The previous two decades had three shutdowns each, so if one happens in 2023, we’re probably right on schedule.
To review the previous shutdowns where funding was ceased, take a look below:
1980: The first government shutdown occurred during the Carter administration when Congress failed to pass a budget. This resulted in a five-day shutdown in November.
1981: Another brief shutdown took place under President Ronald Reagan in November. It lasted just a few hours.
1984: During President Reagan’s second term, a more extended shutdown occurred in October and lasted for several days. It was triggered by a dispute over public transportation funding.
1986: A brief government shutdown took place in October under President Reagan due to disagreements over a water resources bill.
1990: The government experienced a weekend shutdown under President George H.W. Bush in November. This shutdown resulted from a budget impasse between Congress and the administration.
1995-1996: The most prolonged government shutdown in U.S. history occurred during the Clinton administration. It was actually a series of two shutdowns. The first lasted 5 days in November 1995, and the second claiming 21 more days from December 1995 to January 1996. The primary issue was a budgetary dispute between President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress over issues like Medicare, education, and environmental regulations.
2013: A 16-day government shutdown took place from October 1 to October 16, 2013, during President Barack Obama’s administration. This shutdown was primarily related to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), with Republicans seeking to defund or delay the law’s implementation.
2018-2019: The most recent significant government shutdown lasted for 35 days from December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, during President Donald Trump’s administration. The dispute revolved around funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, with President Trump demanding funding for the wall, and Democrats opposing it.