Of course, since I live in the Washington, DC area, nearly everybody I know is affected in some way by the government shutdown.
I’m here to tell you it might not be that big a deal.
If you’ve got a short memory – or weren’t born yet (hey, I suppose that could be the case) – you’ll clearly remember that the last government shutdown was the longest (and worst) in US history.
Government shutdowns have only been a part of American life since 1976, when the first one lasted a grand total of 10 days. Americans thought that was it, only to find themselves undermined by their leaders again the following years. These shutdowns tend to happen at the same time of year – October/November – because of the fiscal year the federal government uses for its accounting practices. The fiscal year starts on 1 October, so any time the budget isn’t squared away by then due to some disagreement between Congress and the president, bang! shutdown. Sometimes they’ll reach a last-minute compromise at the end of September to extend the accounting trickery for 30 days (or even 60), which pushes the shutdown into November (or even December).
Let’s take a look at when & why the US government has closed its doors since 1976.
1976 – 1 closure for 10 days. President Ford said Congress’ bill to fund the Department of Labor & the Dept of Health, Education & Welfare (DHEW) was too rich; he vetoed it, which partially shut down the government. It took 10 days for the Democratic-controlled Congress to override the veto.
1977 – 3 closures for 28 days. The Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress & wanted Medicaid to cover abortions in the case of rape & incest or when the health of the mother is at stake. This funding was tied to DHEW & the 2 houses of Congress couldn’t come to an agreement over the exact terms. After a 12-day shutdown, they passed a temporary funding bill, which expired, leading to the 2nd shutdown, which lasted 8 days. They did another temporary bill, which also expired, leading to the 3rd shutdown – another 8 days – before they finally reached a compromise neither side was terribly happy about.
1978 – 1 closure for 18 days. President Carter vetoed two bills, one funding massive public works projects & another funding the construction of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The Medicaid-paying-for-abortions issue was also part of the problem.
1979 – 1 closure for 11 days. The House wanted to give Members of Congress (MCs) & some high-ranking federal employees a 5% pay raise. The Senate disagreed. The House & Senate also continued to disagree on exactly when Medicaid should pay for abortions; the House said only when the mother’s life is at risk, but the Senate insisted on only in cases or rape or incest.
1981 – 1 closure for 2 days. President Reagan wanted $8.4 billion in budget cuts. The House wanted more of the budget cut – in defense spending – as well as pay raises for MCs. Reagan vetoed the bill Congress sent him.
1982 – 2 closures for 4 days. For the first closure, Congress took an extra day of arguing to pass the budget bill. The 2nd closure came from another fight between Congress & President Reagan. The Democrats controlled the House & the Republicans controlled the Senate, but they were able to (more or less) get along with each other & united against Reagan, who wanted more money spent on nuclear missile programs & aid to Israel.
1983 – 1 closure for 3 days. Once again, Congress & President Reagan couldn’t come to an agreement over spending, this time fighting over budget items related to education, nuclear missiles, foreign aid, oil & gas drilling in federal wildlife refuges, and whether or not the government’s employee health care plan should cover abortion costs.
1984 – 2 closures for 3 days. The first closure was – surprise! – due to a fight between Congress & President Reagan. This time, the issues were related to crime and public works. The 2nd closure was due to the expiration of a temporary budget bill.
1986 – 1 closure for 1 day. The Democratic-controlled House is once again fighting with the Republican-controlled Senate, which is (of course) backed by President Reagan. The House eventually gave in.
1987 – 1 closure for 1 day. The Democrats took control of the Senate in the mid-term elections in 1986, and wanted foreign aid programs in Central America defunded or significantly altered. President Reagan disagreed, but eventually gave in when Congress promised to continue sending non-lethal aid to Central American groups like the Contras in Nicaragua.
1990 – 1 closure for 4 days. President First George Bush (basically an extension of Ronald Reagan in a more pleasant package) followed through on a promise to veto any spending bill that didn’t include budget cuts related to deficit reduction. The House tried – and failed – to override the veto, leading to an eventual compromise.
1995-96 – 2 closures for 26 days. The first (5-day) closure came from President Clinton vetoing a bill passed by Congress – controlled by Republicans – that put off the budget battle for another time. The second shutdown – at 21 days, the longest of all of them – stemmed from a fight between Clinton & Congress. They both agreed that the US needed a balanced budget & that we should have a law saying so. However, they disagreed on which set of statistics to use to achieve that balanced budget bill. Congress wanted to use numbers from the supposedly nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, while Clinton wanted to use numbers provided by the Office of Management & Budget, which is not only part of the White House, but at the time was run by Clinton appointee Alice Rivlin, who went on to work as governor of the Federal Reserve after this crisis was resolved in January 1996.
As you can see, the idea of shutting down the government is a relatively new one. Since the first shutdown in 1976, there have been a total of 18 shutdowns (including the one that started today) for a total of 112 days (including today). That’s a pretty slim number of days, considering it’s been 13,515 days between 30 Sep 1976 & 1 Oct 2013. Most of the closures are 4 days or fewer, with only 5 of them lasting 10 days or more.
Statistically speaking, the likelihood that this closure will run relatively short is high, but the possibility that it could drag on for weeks is, I fear, also very high. From an ideological standpoint, Democrats and Republicans are dug in over the various issues each holds dear, and few on either side – including President Obama – seem willing to give any ground.
I’ve said this before & I’m sure I’ll say it again: We need a revolution. We need an all-new set of leaders in government, leaders that truly have the best interest of Americans at heart.
If you aren’t happy with the way government is being run, I urge you to write a letter to your representative, your senator & the president. Tell them to get their shit together & stop acting like children fighting over a ball on the playground at recess.
In 2014, we’ll face mid-term elections. Don’t forget then what your MCs are doing to you now. In 2016, we’ll get another presidential election. Don’t forget then what your president is doing to you now.
Two words: CLEAN SLATE. Vote every incumbent out of office!!