POLITICS: PennAve

Government shutdown is 18th since 1976

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Politics,White House,Elliot Smilowitz,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Government Shutdown

The current shutdown of the federal government is the 18th since the modern budgeting process began in 1976. Many lasted just days, but several dragged on through multiple weeks.

The first shutdown came in 1976 when President Gerald Ford, a Republican, vetoed a bill funding the Department of Labor and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) over its cost. Congress, controlled by Democrats, overrode the veto, but it took 10 days for all the funding gaps to be filled.

Despite the Democrats having control of both houses of Congress and the White House during President Jimmy Carter's administration, the government shut down five times in his term, all for more than a week. In 1977, the House and Senate clashed on loopholes to a ban on using Medicaid money to cover abortions. The dispute caused three shutdowns (Congress twice passed a short-term funding agreement that expired) before the two sides compromised.

A year later, Carter started an 18-day shutdown when he vetoed spending bills he found wasteful. The 1979 shutdown centered again on federal funding for abortions, as well as the House’s desire for a 5.5-percent pay increase for members of Congress.

The year he took office, President Ronald Reagan’s budget battle with House Democrats led to his first shutdown. The White House and Senate, now in Republican control, wanted $2 billion more in domestic budget cuts than the House was willing to concede, causing a two-day closure of government. A temporary funding bill gave the two sides enough time to work out a long-lasting deal.

Most of Reagan’s eight shutdowns followed a similar template, as the House sought greater domestic spending and a slimmer military budget than the White House was willing to accept. None of the Reagan-era shutdowns lasted more than three days.

The shutdown in October 1982 had a most unusual explanation: Congress simply lost track of time. There was no acrimony, but the spending bills required to fund the government were passed one day late.

After serving as Reagan's vice president for eight years, George H. W. Bush took over the White House and found himself in the same situation as his predecessor, resulting in a four-day shutdown in 1990 because of House Democrats' objection to a deficit-reduction package.

Roles were reversed in 1995, when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, held the White House and Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. The GOP push for a seven-year plan to balance the budget created a November shutdown that lasted five days. The two sides reached a four-week deal to buy time to negotiate. But after that ended, a second shutdown spanned 21 days, the longest shutdown on record.

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Elliot Smilowitz

Senior Web Producer and Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner