Between dominating headlines and dinner conversations, people’s minds and people’s newsfeeds, the U.S. government shutdown feels like the most “current” current event in the last decade. But despite how ever-present it seems, the government lacking a budget and laying off “nonessential” employees is nothing new. It’s just as much a part of the American past as debates, taxes and ballot-boxes. 

The first government shutdown ever in the history of the United States occurred in 1976, under President Gerald Ford. It lasted for ten whole days, and was caused by a funding dispute. Ford had vetoed budgets for two government agencies that year, which was overridden by Congress, but the government wouldn’t be fully funded for days to come, explaining the length of the shutdown.  

One main difference between that government shutdown and the more recent ones is that government workers were all stilled paid and employed during this ten-day frame. This eliminates the problem that all modern shutdowns face, the lack of paychecks for government employees. 

The next three governments shutdowns, occurring in 1977, dealt with abortion funding and medicaid. With debates between what could be covered by the government carrying on, the government was plagued with funding issues. These were eventually resolved for the year, allowing funding to flow.  

Many more disputes occurred,  with problems like abortion, and the significantly  less charged but still controversial nuclear powered aircraft carriers. But it was only with the second Reagan shutdown, the first one in 1982, that the government employees were not paid. The Antideficiency Act of 1982 mandates that the government furlough all “nonessential” government employees of an unfunded agency be laid off and work without receiving their proper paycheck for their time and effort. This was a massive turning point in U.S. political history, and ushered in the era of shutdowns that the American people are familiar with today.  

With seven shutdowns in his eight years in office, President Ronald Reagan’s years in office made these funding gaps more common place. Some, like the aforementioned 1982 shutdown, only lasted a day. None lasted more than three days. Even with government employees out of work for the first time ever in a shutdown, President Reagan still managed to make these funding gaps quick, providing the government workers with economic reprieve. 

After Reagan, President George H. W. Bush had one three day shutdown during his one term as the U.S. President.  

Then came President Bill Clinton. Clinton had two shutdowns during his career, the first of which lasted for five days. The second was particularly historic as it lasted for 21 days, making it the longest government shutdowns at that point (and would remain the longest until 2019). This shutdown was caused by a dispute between Clinton and Congress on whether or not his plan for the next seven years of funding would end with a balanced budget (an agreement President Clinton made to end the previous five-day-long government shutdown).  

From there came President Obama’s funding gaps. A federal fight over paying for the Affordable Care Act, as well as the debt ceiling, lasted for 15 days, and ended with a compromise to raise the debt ceiling and to save Obamacare funds. 

Finally there is Trump, who has had two government shutdowns during his term so far. The former lasted for three days at the beginning of 2018; and the most recent lasted 35 days. With the government being “temporarily re-opened” this is certainly a timely event that will live on in APUSH textbooks for years to come.  


Sadie Testa-Secca // Managing Editor

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