Since the 1976 laws on provisions for federal budgets and finance were enacted, there have been 17 shutdowns, or “spending gaps” as Congress prefers to call them. As we embark on the 18th government shutdown, let us take a look at the past shutdowns and what transpired as a result.

©AFP Photo/Mark Wilson


First of all, the world as we know it, did not come to an end. There was no chaos in the streets and anarchy. All essential government functions were still operational, and furloughed federal workers were eventually given back pay for time missed. Government entitlement checks all went out on time, the military got paid, and the only real inconvenience was the temporary closing of national parks and other non-essential government.

Here is a list of the 17 shutdowns in chronological order, the dates and length, the president and the causes/results of each:

1. Sept. 30 to Oct. 11, 1976 (10 days) FORD
Cause: President Ford vetoed a funding bill for HEW.
Result: Congress eventually overrode Ford’s veto.

2. Sept. 30 to Oct. 13, 1977 (12 days) CARTER
Cause: Dispute between House and Senate over Medicaid funding of abortion.
Result: Ban on Medicaid funding was extended to Oct. 31

3. Oct. 31 to Nov. 9, 1977 (8 days) CARTER
Cause: Continued dispute over Medicaid abortion funding.
Result: Carter signed a temporary bill to allow more time.

4. Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, 1977 (8 days) CARTER
Cause: More continued dispute over Medicaid funding of abortion.
Result: Compromise was reached allowing partial Medicaid funding for abortion in certain cases.

5. Sept. 30 to Oct.18, 1978 (18 days) CARTER
Cause: Carter vetoed what he called a wasteful spending bill.
Result: Congress eventually passed a less wasteful spending bill.

6. Sept. 30 to Oct. 12, 1979 (11 days) CARTER
Cause: Dispute between Senate and House on congressional pay raise and abortion funding.
Result: Eventually a compromise agreement was reached.

7. Nov. 20-23, 1981 (2 days) REAGAN
Cause: Reagan stuck to his promise to veto any spending bill that didn’t include at least half of his proposed domestic budget cuts.
Result: A temporary spending bill was passed and signed, giving them more time to work on it. Eventually, Reagan got the budget cuts.

8. Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, 1982 (1 day) REAGAN
Cause: No real reason, Congress just hadn’t passed a new spending bill, and politicians on both sides had better things to do.
Result: Shutdown ended after the weekend social plans and Congress passed a spending bill.

9. Dec.17-21, 1982 (3 days) REAGAN
Cause: Dispute over funding of a jobs bill and MX missile.
Result: Dems gave up jobs bill, Pubs gave up the MX.

10. Nov. 10-14, 1983 (3 days) REAGAN
Cause: Dispute over defense spending and education spending.
Result: Dems caved on education spending and funded the MX.
There was also a trade off on abortion funding for environmental regulations.

11. Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 1984 (2 days) REAGAN
Cause: Several issues disputed, including a crime-fighting bill, water works, and civil rights.
Result: A three-day extention so they could work on it.

12. Oct. 3-5, 1984 (1 day) REAGAN
Cause: Three days wasn’t enough.
Result: Congressional dems relented on the water works and civil rights measures and funded Reagan’s crime bill. Also, through the negotiations, approved funding for the Nicaraguan Contras.

13. Oct. 16-18, 1986 (1 day) REAGAN
Cause: Dems wanted to expand welfare and pass labor regulations for Big Oil.
Result: Dems gave up for the promise of a vote on welfare expansion. Pubs made some concessions related to the government’s sale of Conrail, a public railway.

14. Dec. 18-20, 1987 (1 day) REAGAN
Cause: Disagreement on funding of the Contras with Reagan, and the Fairness Doctrine.
Result: Dems caved on the Fairness Doctrine, and deal was reached for nonlethal Contra aid.

15. Oct. 5-9, 1990 (3 days) H.W. BUSH
Cause: Bush vetoed (as promised) a spending bill without deficit reduction plans.
Result: Congress adopted a joint resolution providing an outline for deficit reduction.

16. Nov. 13-19, 1995 (5 days) CLINTON
Cause: Clinton vetoed a CR that would have raised Medicare premiums, reformed welfare, and committed the president to a 7-year balanced budget plan.
Result: Temporary funding measure passed to give both sides time to work on it.

17. Dec. 5, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996 (21 days) CLINTON
Cause: Continued dispute over 7-year balanced budget plan.
Result: Clinton agreed to submit a 7-year balanced budget plan.

As we can clearly see, in every instance of shutdown, both sides worked together and made concessions, and ultimately reached a compromise. Sometimes the compromise didn’t last long and another shutdown resulted, but even the most divisive issues were eventually resolved. Neither side gets all of what they want, so Harry Reid needs to comprehend that some concessions will have to be made regarding Obamacare, and Republicans will need to understand they can’t fully defund it. I believe a stalling of implementation on the individual mandate until after the mid-term elections next year, will be a major victory for the republicans.

Democrats are already blaming Republicans for the shutdown, anticipating this will “hurt republicans” in the mid-terms, and there are some republicans who apparently believe this as well. I can’t explain why this is the case, but the facts of past shutdowns simply do not support that supposition. Reagan was the king of shutdowns with 8 during his tenure, and was elected and re-elected in landslides. The last shutdown under Clinton, seems to be the point of contention, as politicos disagree on who paid the price. Republicans did lose a few Senate seats, but actually gained House seats in the following elections. More importantly, they got pretty much what they bargained for, reform of welfare and a promise to balance the budget from Clinton. Of course, Clinton being the slick politician that he was, “triangulated” the issues of welfare reform and a balanced budget and parlayed those into winning campaign rhetoric, which still lives on today as part of his presidential legacy.