- The longest government shutdown in history took place from 1995 to 1996 under former President Bill Clinton.
- That shutdown came less than a month after another shutdown in November 1995, and was the result of the same set of budgetary issues.
- The record shutdown only resulted in 284,000 employees having to miss work, which is less than half of the estimated furloughs for the 2018 shutdown.
- Though the two parties were disagreeing about different issues, the 1995-96 shutdown was similar to the 2018 impasse in several key ways.
The government shutdown that started at midnight on Saturday was the first since the 16-day shutdown that took place in 2013 under former President Barack Obama, and naturally, the two have frequently been compared.
The 2018 shutdown will likely end Monday, but the government could close again if Democrats and Republicans can’t reach a budget deal in February.
The longest shutdown in US history took place under former President Bill Clinton while Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. It lasted over three weeks, from December 15, 1995 to January 6, 1996.
What happened that time
That record shutdown took place less than a month after a previous shutdown in November 1995 closed the government for five days due to budget battles between Clinton, a Democrat, and Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Although temporarily resolved after November, the two side’s disagreements on funding for public initiatives spilled over again into another funding impasse soon afterward, leaving the government paralysed as it rang in the new year.
Like nearly all funding gap problems, the 1995-96 government shutdown was about a difference in priorities. While Gingrich was dead set on reducing government spending at the federal level, Clinton wanted to expand spending on Medicare, education, the environment, and public health.
How the record shutdown compares to today
While federal spending as an idea was not a sticking point in 2018, this year’s stalemate was similar because the two parties have vastly different ideas about how to tackle what is perhaps the most important issue in the era of President Donald Trump – immigration.
Like Clinton in 1995, Democrats were that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program be a part of any budget agreement in the lead-up to this year’s shutdown, while Republicans wanted broader immigration measures – including border security and Trump’s infamous border wall – to be implemented alongside DACA. Health care and other spending policies were also on the negotiating table.
On Monday, the first and likely only workday of the shutdown, about 800,000 federal employees were furloughed.
The delayed effect of the impasse on work in Washington is similar to what happened during the Clinton-Gingrich shutdown. Because government funding officially ran out at the end of Friday, December 15, 1995, the full effects of the shutdown were not felt until thousands of government employees were furloughed starting Monday, December 18.
Ironically, while the 1995-96 shutdown was the longest in history, only about 284,000 employees were forced to stay home during the three-week period, compared to the 800,000 who were furloughed during the five-day shutdown in November 1995.
As if to add insult to injury, just as Clinton and the Republicans were reaching a deal on Saturday, January 6, a massive blizzard dumped two feet of snow on Washington, DC, forcing government workers to stay out of the office for yet another five days.
The snowstorm that caused these additional environment-related work leaves was aptly dubbed “the Furlough Storm.”
How did this shutdown end so quickly?
Senators scrambled over the weekend to try to reach a deal, and on Monday afternoon, the Senate finally cleared a key procedural hurdle on a deal to fund the government, taking a large step toward ending the shutdown.
The impasse was broken after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to have a vote on a bill to codify the DACA program. This deal will keep the government funded until February 8, rather than the February 16 deadline in the original House-passed funding bill that the Senate rejected on Friday.
McConnell attempted Sunday afternoon to break the impasse with a motion to pass a short-term funding deal, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had blocked it. Only after McConnell assuaged Democrats’ fears about DACA was the current short-term funding bill able to move forward.
The bill will likely head to the president’s desk for Trump to sign it into law on Monday.
Because of the imminent action required on DACA since Trump ended the Obama-era program, it appears that Republicans and Democrats were able to put aside some of their deepest divisions in order to pass a bill on the elements they did agree on.
What remains to be seen though is whether Republicans will be able to hold to their promise of voting on DACA by February 8.
If bipartisan talks stall once more, it is possible that a fresh budgetary stalemate might emerge again – just like it did in 1995.
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