The Longest Government Shutdowns

Government shutdowns can concur if congress disagrees on an issue.
Government shutdowns can concur if congress disagrees on an issue.

A government shutdown can occur for a variety of reasons. If Congress fails to pass bills that facilitate the funding of government programs, the government can shut down. The government can also be shut down if the president vetoes a bill that has been adopted by Congress. If there is a lack of law enactments of budget appropriations, a government shutdown is a required by the United States Constitution and the Antideficiency Act. There have been 22 funding gaps in the United States since the passage of the current budget allocation process. Before 2018, the longest funding gap occurred during Clinton’s administration in 1996 when some government operations had to stop for 21 days. The shutdown of 2018-2019, however, had reached 31 days and was ongoing by January 21, 2019.

Longest Shutdowns

35 days – Dec 22, 2018 to Jan 25, 2019

This shutdown surpassed the previous standing longest government shutdown on January 12, 2019. Approximately a quarter of government activities were affected by the shutdown, including nine executive departments. About 800,000 employees were affected with 380,000 employees furloughed and 420,000 working without pay. President Trump maintained that he would veto any bill that did not include his demand for $5.7 billion to build a border wall along the US-Mexico border. On January 25, 2019, Trump and Congress agreed to a three week long spending bill to end the shutdown and allow workers to receive back pay.

21 days – Dec 15, 1995 to Jan 6, 1996

This shutdown was caused by a budget dispute between President Clinton and the Congressional Republicans. Clinton wanted to see more money spent on education and public health in contrast to Congress' wish to slow government spending. During the shutdown, approximately 284,000 workers were furloughed. A compromise was reached that included tax increased and modest spending cuts.

19 days – September 30 to October 18, 1978

The shutdown occurred when President Carter vetoed a public works appropriation bill and a defense bill that had been passed by Congress. The president deemed the funding as wasteful. President Carter's veto delayed spending for the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare. The previous dispute on the use of Medicaid on abortion had also resurfaced leading to delayed expenditures.

Significance of Government Shutdowns

Complete effects of a shutdown are often clouded by missing data that cannot be collected when specific government offices are closed. Some effects of shutdowns 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. 

Government Shutdowns Since 1976 by Length

RankTotal DaysDatesPresidentEmployees Furloughed
135Dec 22, 2018 - Jan 25, 2019Donald Trumpyes
221Dec 15, 1995 - Jan 6, 1996Bill Clintonyes
319Sep 30 - Oct 18, 1978Jimmy Carterno
417Oct 1 - 17, 2013Barack Obamayes
514Sep 30 - Oct 13, 1977Jimmy Carterno
613Sep 30 - Oct 12, 1979Jimmy Carterno
712Sep 30 - Oct 11, 1976Gerald Fordno
810Oct 31 - Nov 9, 1977Jimmy Carterno
910Nov 30 - Dec 9, 1977Jimmy Carterno
107Nov 13 - 19, 1995Bill Clintonyes
115Dec 17 - 21, 1982Ronald Reaganno
125Oct 5 - 9, 1990George H. W. Bushyes
134Nov 10 - 14, 1983Ronald Reaganno
144Sept 30 - Oct 3, 1984Ronald Reaganno
153Nov 20 - 23, 1981Ronald Reaganyes
163Sept 30 - Oct 2, 1982Ronald Reaganno
173Oct 3 - 5, 1984Ronald Reaganyes
183Oct 16 - 18, 1986Ronald Reaganyes
193Dec 18 - 20, 1987Ronald Reaganyes
203Jan 20 - 22, 2018Donald Trumpyes
211May 1, 1980Jimmy Carteryes
221Feb 9, 2018Donald Trumpno

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