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In U.S. politics, a government shutdown is the name for the process the Executive Branch must enter into, when the Congress creates a "funding gap" by choosing not to or failing to pass legislation funding government operations and agencies. If interim or full-year appropriations are not enacted into law, the United States Constitution and the Antideficiency Act require the federal government begins a "shutdown" of the affected activities. If the funding gap lasts long enough that shutdown plans must be enacted, the law requires the furlough of non-emergency personnel and curtailment of agency activities and services. Programs that are funded by laws other than annual appropriations acts (like Social Security) also may be affected by a funding gap, if program execution relies on activities that receive annually appropriated funding. Although the term government shutdown usually refers to what occurs at the federal level, shutdowns have also occurred at the state/territorial and local levels of government.
During the Ford and Carter administrations, funding gaps caused 6 partial shutdowns that affected only the departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare. These lasted from 8 to 18 days and the primary issue of dispute was federal funding for abortion. During the Reagan administration, there were 8 funding gaps with technical shutdowns lasting less than 48 hours or over weekends while spending measures were negotiated. A funding gap during the George H. W. Bush administration also caused a weekend shutdown, resolved late the following Monday.
During the Clinton administration, after conservatives made massive congressional gains in the 1994 Republican Revolution, there were two full government shutdowns lasting 5 and 21 days respectively, both the longest and most severe to that date. These shutdowns led to massive furloughs and significant disruption. The primary issue was the United States budget deficit.
The United States federal government shutdown of 2013 ran from October 1 to October 16, 2013. The primary issue of dispute between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate was the Republicans' desire to delay or defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), signed into law in 2010. A bill to end the shutdown and fund federal agencies through January 15, 2014, passed the Senate and the House and was signed into law on October 17, 2013.
Under the separation of powers created by the United States Constitution, the United States Congress has the sole power of the purse and responsibility for appropriating government funds. The appropriations bills must start in the House of Representatives and then be approved by the Senate, which upon passage of a final version by both houses then go to the President of the United States. If the President signs or ignores the bills, they become law. If the President vetoes the bills, they go back to Congress, where the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote. Government shutdowns tend to occur when the President and one or both of the chambers of Congress are unable to resolve disagreements over budget allocations before the existing budget cycle ends.
Following the first shutdown, many federal agencies continued to operate during a shutdown, while minimizing all nonessential operations and obligations, believing that Congress did not intend that agencies close down while waiting for the enactment of annual appropriations acts or temporary appropriations. In 1980 and 1981, however, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued two opinions that more strictly interpreted the Antideficiency Act in the context of a funding gap, along with its exceptions. The opinions stated that, with some exceptions, the head of an agency could avoid violating the Act only by suspending the agency’s operations until the enactment of an appropriation. In the absence of appropriations, exceptions would be allowed only when there is some reasonable and articulable connection between the function to be performed and the safety of human life or the protection of property.
Shutdowns of the type experienced by the United States are nearly impossible in other democracies. Under the parliamentary system used in most European nations, the executive and legislative branch are not separate, with the parliament designating all executive officials, typically called "ministers". In many other non-parliamentary democracies, a strong executive branch typically has the authority to keep the government functioning even without an approved budget.
While most government shutdowns prior to the 1995–1996 shutdowns had very mild effects, a full federal government shutdown causes a large number of civilian federal employees to be furloughed. Active duty military personnel (those on Title 10 status) and employees excepted by the Antideficiency Act are not furloughed, but may not be paid as scheduled if at all for the period of the furlough. During a government shutdown, furloughed government employees are prohibited from even checking their e-mail from home. To enforce this prohibition, many agencies require employees to return their government-issued electronic devices for the duration of the shutdown.
The exact details of which government functions would stop during a shutdown is determined by the Office of Management and Budget. "Emergency personnel" continue to be employed, including the active duty (Title 10) military, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and nurses working in federal hospitals, and air traffic controllers. For the Department of Defense, at least half of the civilian workforce, and the full-time, dual-status military technicians in the US National Guard and traditional Guardsmen (those on Title 32 status) are furloughed and not paid while the shutdown is in effect. Members of Congress continue to be paid, because their pay cannot be altered except by direct law. Mail delivery is not affected as it is self-funded and the funds are not appropriated by Congress.
Since 1976, when the United States budget process was revised by the Budget Act of 1974 the United States Federal Government has had funding gaps on 18 occasions: Funding gaps did not lead to government shutdowns prior to 1980 when President Carter requested opinions from Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti on funding gaps and the Anti-Deficiency Act. His first opinion said that all government work must stop if Congress does not agree to pay for it. He later issued a second opinion that allowed essential government services to continue in the absence of a spending bill.
|Year||Start date (exclusive)||End date (exclusive)||Total days of funding gap||Government Shutdown during Funding Gap?||President||Senate||House||Circumstances|
|1976||Sep 30||Oct 11||10||No||Ford||Dem||Dem||Citing out of control spending, President Gerald Ford vetoed a funding bill for the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), leading to a partial government shutdown. On October 1, the Democratically-controlled Congress overrode Ford's veto but it took until October 11 for a continuing resolution ending funding gaps for other parts of government to become law.|
|Sep 30||Oct 13||12||No||Carter||Dem||Dem||The Democratically-controlled House continued to uphold the ban on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother was at stake. Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate pressed to loosen the ban to allow abortion funding in the case of rape or incest. A funding gap was created when disagreement over the issue between the houses had become tied to funding for the Departments of Labor and HEW, leading to a partial government shutdown. A temporary agreement was made to restore funding through October 31, 1977, allowing more time for Congress to resolve its dispute.|
|Oct 31||Nov 9||8||No||Carter||Dem||Dem||The earlier temporary funding agreement expired. President Jimmy Carter signed a second funding agreement to allow for more time for negotiation.|
|Nov 30||Dec 9||8||No||Carter||Dem||Dem||The second temporary funding agreement expired. The House held firm against the Senate in its effort to ban Medicaid paying for the abortions of victims of statutory rape. A deal was eventually struck allowing Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases resulting from rape, incest, or in which the mother's health is at risk.|
|1978||Sep 30||Oct 18||18||No||Carter||Dem||Dem||Deeming them wasteful, President Carter vetoed a public works appropriations bill and a defense bill including funding for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Spending for the Department of HEW was also delayed over additional disputes concerning Medicaid funding for abortion.|
|1979||Sep 30||Oct 12||11||No||Carter||Dem||Dem||Against the opposition of the Senate, the House pushed for a 5.5 percent pay increase for Congress members and senior civil servants. The House also sought to restrict federal spending on abortion only to cases where the mother's life is in danger, while the Senate wanted to maintain funding for abortions in cases of rape and incest.|
|1981||Nov 20||Nov 23||2||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||President Ronald Reagan pledged that he would veto any spending bill that failed to include at least half of the $8.4 billion in domestic budget cuts that he proposed. Although the Republican controlled Senate passed a bill that met his specifications, the Democratically controlled House insisted on larger cuts to defense than Reagan wanted as well as pay raises for Congress and senior civil servants. A compromise bill fell $2 billion short of the cuts Reagan wanted, so Reagan vetoed the bill and shut down the federal government. A temporary bill restored spending through December 15 and gave Congress the time to work out a more lasting deal.|
|Sep 30||Oct 2||1||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||Congress passed the required spending bills a day late.|
|Dec 17||Dec 21||3||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||The House and Senate wished to fund job programs, but President Reagan vowed to veto any such legislation. The House also opposed plans to fund the MX missile. The shutdown ended after Congress abandoned their jobs plan, but Reagan was forced to yield on funding for both the MX and Pershing II missiles. He also accepted funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which he wanted abolished, in exchange for higher foreign aid to Israel.|
|1983||Nov 10||Nov 14||3||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||The House increased education funding but cut defense and foreign aid spending, which led to a dispute with President Reagan. Eventually, the House reduced their proposed education funding, and also accepted funding for the MX missile. However, the foreign aid and defense cuts remained, and oil and gas leasing was banned in federal wildlife refuges. Abortion was also prohibited from being paid for with government employee health insurance.|
|1984||Sep 30||Oct 3||2||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||The House wished to link the budget to both a crime-fighting package President Reagan supported and a water projects package he did not. The Senate additionally tied the budget to a civil rights measure designed to overturn Grove City v. Bell. Reagan proposed a compromise where he abandoned his crime package in exchange for Congress dropping the water projects package. A deal was not struck, and a three-day spending extension was passed instead.|
|1984||Oct 3||Oct 5||1||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||The October 3 spending extension expired, forcing a shutdown. Congress dropped its proposed water and civil rights packages, while President Reagan kept his crime package. Funding for aid to the Nicaraguan Contras was also passed.|
|1986||Oct 16||Oct 18||1||Yes||Reagan||Rep||Dem||Disputes over multiple issues between the House and President Reagan and the Republican Senate forced a shutdown. The House dropped many of their demands in exchange for a vote on their welfare package, and a concession of the sale of then-government-owned Conrail.|
|1987||Dec 18||Dec 20||1||Yes||Reagan||Dem||Dem||The House and Senate opposed funding for the Contras and wanted the Federal Communications Commission to renew enforcement of the "Fairness Doctrine". They yielded on the "Fairness Doctrine" issue in exchange for non-lethal aid to the Contras.|
|1990||Oct 5||Oct 9||5||Yes||G. H. W. Bush||Dem||Dem||President George H. W. Bush vowed to veto any continuing resolution that was not paired with a deficit reduction package, and did so when one reached his desk. The House failed to override his veto before a shutdown occurred. Congress then passed a continuing resolution with a deficit reduction package to end the shutdown.|
|1995||Nov 13||Nov 19||5||Yes||Clinton||Rep||Rep||President Bill Clinton vetoed a continuing resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. A deal was reached allowing for 75-percent funding for four weeks, and Clinton agreed to a seven-year timetable for a balanced budget.|
|1995–1996||Dec 15||Jan 6||21||Yes||Clinton||Rep||Rep||The Republicans demanded that President Clinton propose a budget with the seven-year timetable using Congressional Budget Office numbers, rather than Clinton's Office of Management and Budget numbers. However, Clinton refused. Eventually, Congress and Clinton agreed to pass a compromise budget.|
|2013||Sep 30||Oct 17||16||Yes||Obama||Dem||Rep||Due to disagreement regarding inclusion of language defunding or delaying the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), more commonly known as ObamaCare, the Government did not pass a substantial funding bill. Funding was agreed to by the President and Congress for active military pay and back wages for furloughed employees. In addition, the House offered very small funding measures for a few, high-profile functions, which the Senate and White House rejected as "game-playing" while the Senate offered bills that did not include language to defund or delay the PPACA, but the House rejected them. On October 16, Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal that extended funding for government services until January 15, making only minor adjustments to the PPACA and other funding. This resolution was quickly adopted by both houses in bipartisan numbers, and was signed early next morning by President Obama.|
|Year||Start date||End date||Total days||Location||References|
|2005||Feb 7||N/A||N/A||Erie County, New York|||
|2005||Jun 30||Jul 9||10||Minnesota|||
|2006||May 1||May 14||14||Puerto Rico|
|2006||Jul 8||Jul 10||2||New Jersey|
|2007||Jul 11||Jul 12||1||Pennsylvania|||
|2011||Jul 1||Jul 20||20||Minnesota|||