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History, causes and effects of Government Shutdowns in the US

Par 4 février 2020 mars 12th, 2020 Pas de commentaires

The 2019 government shutdown deals with Trump’s will to build the preventive wall along the Mexican border. The Senate and especially the Democrats have refused to allocate 5.7 billion dollars for the construction of this wall. This refusal lead to the longest government shutdown in American history. Donald Trump wasn’t looking to reassure anybody: he claimed that the shutdown could have lasted for months, years even. The effects of this shutdown didn’t really matter to him given that his sole objective was and remains to ensure his campaign promise: the construction of the “big strong, wall”.

What is an economic shutdown?

An economic shutdown is when Congress fails to pass sufficient appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to fund government operations and agencies, or when the president refuses to sub into law such bills or resolution.

History of important American shutdowns:

  • September 30th-October 13th 1977
    President: Jimmy Carter
    The shutdown lasted 12 days.
    The controversial issue was abortion. The House continued the ban on Medicaid dollars used for abortion (except of course if the mother’s health was at stake).
    The shutdown ended in order to let negotiators come up with a new deal. However, that took longer than expected.
  • November 30th-December 9th 1977
    President: Jimmy Carter
    (2) The shutdown lasted 8 days.
    The House rejected a proposal made by the Senate that would have allowed Medicaid dollars to be used to pay for abortions of victims of statuary rape.
    A deal was finally made: Medicaid could finally pay for abortions resulting from rape, incest.
  • December 1995-1996
    President: Clinton
    2 government shutdowns
    Budget battle between President Clinton and Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
    Congress meant to reduce government spending. However, this went against what Clinton had planned out: spending in education, public health… One proposed bill threatened to block Medicare, something he had toiled on with Hillary. The shutdown had a positive effect on Clinton’s presidency as he was then voted president in 1996.
    The shutdown lasted 21 days.
    284 000 federal workers had to miss work
  • October 2013
    President: Obama
    October 1st 2013: Congress failed to pass a bill on the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare)
    16-day government shutdown
    800 000 federal workers were put on furlough
    The shutdown had a negative impact on the Republican Party as over 50% of Americans held the Republicans accountable for the shutdown.
  • January 2018 government shutdown
    President: Trump
    The question of immigration was at the heart of this shutdown. The Republicans refused to pass the DREAM Act, that meant to provide immigrant children with protection.
    This shutdown lead to 692,000 federal workers being furloughed.

How does it work?

During a government shutdown, most people working for the government are on forced temporary leave. This means that they aren’t paid during the whole shutdown. Some of them may not even be reimbursed later on. Not only does it provoke unwanted unemployment, it also leads to the paralysis of certain institutions. Indeed, during this government shutdown, Nasa couldn’t function correctly anymore, wildlife parks needed to be closed as the number of rangers dramatically decreased. Thousands of scientists couldn’t maintain their research going during the shutdown.
Furthermore, had it not been thanks to NYC, the Statue of Liberty would have been closed. The Smithsonians, cultural landmarks and crown jewels of the United States, were forced to close their doors as there was no funding possible. The tourism industry truly took a hit during this shutdown.

How can we explain what is happening today?

Congress was supposed to pass a budget resolution by December 21st to fund the government. However, the major political parties didn’t manage to find an agreement on the bill.
The cornerstone of Donald Trump’s policy is the construction of the border wall. Without it, he would have failed his biggest campaign promise. This can’t be, so he needs to go though the struggle of finding a solution to this problem. This goes without saying: it is the economic shutdown.

Why is this government shutdown unique?

a.For civil officers

During the shutdown, some 800 000 federal workers were on a “break” without earning the slightest dollar. Family benefits will be suspended until the end of the shutdown, so if Donald Trump’s bet is really to earn future votes in the 2020 election nothing is really sure about that. Government officials are living in the fear to not be able to pay for their loans or even nursery for their kids.

b. For the national economy

Don’t be fooled by the government shutdown, it didn’t only affect civil officers and people directly working for the government but also important US companies. As a matter of fact, the Delta Airline company took a hit. Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta, claimed that the shutdown had cost his company $25 million dollars due to a drop in flights from government workers. On a more financial level, JP Morgan Chase had to lower its GDP expectation for the first quarter of 2019 from 2.25% to 2% because of the shutdown.

c.Donald Trump’s actions

This shutdown is of paramount importance to Donald Trump. Like Clinton in 1995, his re-election depends on it. During the 35-day shutdown, there was a sort of chant “Build that wall”. It was clear that he wasn’t going to back down. He stated on multiple occasions that the shutdown will “last as long as it takes”. The shutdown can be considered as therefore being very personal for the president. Although 800 000 federal workers were furloughed, DT didn’t do anything about it. He wanted to declare a state of national emergency in order to get access certain funds and reallocate them. However, he didn’t do this because he would appear as having an insatiable thirst for power and committing misuse of power.


This government shutdown can be considered as Donald Trump’s will to live up to the promises he set forth in the 2016 presidential campaign. Whether anyone likes it or not, he is one of the only presidents that respects his promises. His 2020 re-election depends on the construction of the Border Wall. Everything about this government shutdown seems to be personal.
The government shutdown couldn’t have kept going for much longer although Donald Trump wanted it to. The shutdown took its toll on January 26th, 35 days after its beginning. The 35-day nightmare, as it is called, is over. However, 3 weeks are sought for negotiations, if these don’t work out, the risk of another government shutdown is looming.

Key vocabulary:

  • Furlough: a temporary leave from work that is not paid and is often for a set period of time
  • Looming: (of an event as threatening) seem about to happen
  • The Smithsonians : refers to the Smithsonian Institutions

To learn more:

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