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Government Shutdown

When Does It Happen

A government shutdown happens in the United States when Congress fails to enact sufficient appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to support federal government operations and agencies, or when the President refuses to sign such legislation.1)

Antideficiency Act

In such instances, the current interpretation of the Antideficiency Act authorizes the federal government to initiate a “shutdown” of the impacted operations, which includes furloughing non-essential staff and reducing agency activities and services.2)

Essential Staff

Essential staff must continue to work without compensation until the government reopens, at which point they may be eligible for back pay. TSA agents and medical personnel from Veterans Hospitals may be among these staff.3)

Funding Gaps

Since the present budget and appropriations process was established in 1976, there have been 22 funding gaps, 10 of which have resulted in government employees being furloughed.4)

Budget Shortages

Prior to 1990, budget shortages did not necessarily result in government shutdowns, but after 1990, all financial gaps have resulted in government shutdowns.5)

Ronald Reagan

There were eight shutdowns lasting four days or fewer during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Arguments over the fairness doctrine, a welfare package, a water package, a crime fighting package, foreign assistance cutbacks, MX missile financing, essential expenditure legislation, and defense cuts were among the reasons given.6)

George H. W. Bush

During the George H. W. Bush administration, a financial shortage resulted in a weekend closure in 1990.7)

Bill Clinton

During Bill Clinton's presidency, there were two full government shutdowns, lasting five and 21 days, respectively, due to disagreements about whether to eliminate government services.8)

Barack Obama

During Barack Obama's presidency, a 16-day government shutdown occurred in October 2013 due to Democrats and Republicans failing to reach an agreement on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, generally known as Obamacare.9)

Donald Trump

During the Trump administration, there have been three budget shortfalls. In January 2018, there was a three-day stoppage. A budget gap that occurred overnight on February 9, 2018, but did not result in furloughs, as well as an ongoing shutdown that began in December 2018, over planned financing for a US-Mexico border wall.10)


Government shutdowns have the impact of interrupting government services as well as raising government expenditures owing to lost labor.11)

2013 Shutdown

During the 2013 closure, the financial ratings firm Standard & Poor's reported on October 16 that the shutdown had “to date knocked $24 billion out of the economy” and “shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth”.12)

Seperation Of Powers

The United States Congress has sole power of the purse and responsibility for appropriating government funds under the separation of powers established by the United States Constitution. Appropriations, like other measures, must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. They are sent to the President of the United States when both chambers have passed a final version. The legislation become law if the President signs them. If the President instead vetoes them, they return to Congress, where the veto can be overcome (in rare cases) by a two-thirds majority of both chambers.13)

When Do Shutdowns Happen?

Government shutdowns often occur when the President and one or both chambers of Congress are unable to reach an agreement on budget allocations before the current fiscal cycle ends. Many government agencies initially continued to operate during shutdowns, while reducing all non-essential operations and commitments.14)

Benjamin Civiletti

However, in 1980 and 1981, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued two judgments that more rigorously construed the Antideficiency Act and its exclusions in the context of a financial shortfall. With a few exceptions, the decisions ruled that the director of an agency could avoid breaching the Act solely by stopping operations until an appropriation was passed. In the absence of appropriations, exceptions would be permitted only when there is a reasonable and articulable link between the function to be performed and the preservation of human life or property.15)

Civiletti Not Always Right About Shutdowns

Even after the Civiletti rulings, however, not all financial shortfalls resulted in shutdowns. Only four of the nine financial shortfalls between 1980 and 1990 resulted in shutdowns.16)

Not Possible In Europe

In most European countries, the administration must keep the approval of the legislature to continue in power (confidence and supply), and an election is usually called if a budget fails to pass. In other presidential systems, the executive branch is often given the ability to keep the government running even when no budget is approved.17)

Mild Consequences

Prior to the 1995-1996 shutdowns, government shutdowns had extremely minor consequences. A full federal government shutdown results in the furloughing of a substantial number of civilian federal employees.18)


During a federal shutdown, furloughed employees are not even allowed to access their e-mail from home. Many agencies demand employees to surrender their government-issued electronic devices for the length of the closure in order to enforce this restriction.19)

Impact Of Shutdown

The full impact of a shutdown is sometimes obscured by missing data that cannot be gathered while certain government departments are closed. Some effects of the closure are difficult to quantify and are expected to have long-term consequences in the months following the shutdown. The Office of Management and Budget determines which federal services are suspended during a shutdown.20)

Emergency Personnel

Active duty military, federal law enforcement officers, physicians and nurses working in government hospitals, and air traffic controllers are all still employed as “emergency employees”.21)

Department of Defense

During the shutdown, at least half of the civilian staff, as well as full-time, dual-status military technicians in the US National Guard and traditional Guardsmen, are furloughed and not paid.22)

Members Of Congress

Members of Congress continue to be paid since their compensation can only be changed by direct legislation.23)

Mail Delivery

Mail delivery is unaffected because it is self-funded and not allocated by Congress.24)

Programs Supported By Laws

Programs supported by laws other than annual appropriations acts may also be affected by a funding gap if program execution is dependent on activities that get yearly appropriations.25)

Longest Shutdown

One shutdown began on December 22, 2018, and on January 12, 2019, it became the longest in US history. It outlasted the last 21-day closure in 1995-96. 26)

Trump Border Wall Leading To Shutdown

The impasse arose when Trump attempted to add $5.7 billion in financing for a border wall in the US government's 2018 budget. Democrats raised concerns about the efficiency of the proposed wall and the funds needed to build it. A senate vote on the proposed spending package failed to win a majority vote in order for it to move through Congress, leaving Trump unable to garner support for the bill before January 2019.27)

Federal Workers Without Pay 2018/2019

Around 420,000 federal employees were forced to work without pay, while the rest were furloughed.28)

Speaking With Democrat Leaders

Democrats Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, and Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, both refused to accept money for the border wall when Democrats won control of the House. A meeting between the three failed to break the impasse. When Pelosi and Schumer refused to offer the funds Trump sought, Trump refused to discuss ending the shutdown. On January 8, both parties delivered televised addresses in which Trump sought public support for a new border wall.29)


On January 10, Trump reaffirmed his view that Mexico will fund the new wall, adding that it would be done through the new trade agreement he negotiated in 2018 to replace NAFTA.30)

government_shutdown.txt · Last modified: 2022/10/04 01:22 by eziothekilla34