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There were five government shutdowns when Carter was president and Congress was controlled by Democrats. Robert Byrd, a conservative Democrat, was the majority leader in each case. For the most part, the first shutdown was related to disagreements between House and Senate Democrats concerning Medicaid payments for abortions in cases of rape and incest as well as when the life of the mother was in danger. The other shutdowns were mostly related to this same issue and the timing of the bills for resolving the disputes around this issue.
There was also a shutdown when Ford was president and Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. This shutdown involved a budget dispute between the Democratic controlled House and Senate, and the president. Ford vetoed the budget passed by Congress, and Congress overrode the veto to end the shutdown.
The history of federal government shutdowns reflect the reality that republicans cannot govern and should not be trusted to be the majority in the government. EVERY shutdown other than the ones mentioned above had to do with republicans, either Reagan or congressional republicans, attempting to force unreasonable constraints on the American people through the budget process.
Not a single republican led shutdown has been for the purpose of protecting Americans, but rather to impose unnecessary and unreasonable constraints on Americans.
The current shutdown is the first time in history that the president has been solely responsible for a shutdown, and Congress did not pass a budget and then override a veto in order to keep the government functioning.
List of All Government Shutdowns and their Duration
This list of government shutdowns in the past was drawn from Congressional Research Service reports:
- 2018 (President Donald Trump): Dec. 22 to (ongoing)
- 2018 (President Donald Trump): Jan. 20 to Jan. 23 - 3 days
- 2018 (President Donald Trump): Feb. 9 – 1 day.
- 2013 (President Barack Obama): Oct. 1 to Oct. 17 - 16 days
- 1995-1996 (President Bill Clinton): December 5, 1995, to January 6, 1996, - 21 days
- 1995 (President Bill Clinton): Nov. 13 to 19 - 5 days
- 1990 (President George H.W. Bush): October 5 to 9 - 3 days
- 1987 (President Ronald Reagan): December 18 to December 20 - 1 day
- 1986 (President Ronald Reagan): October 16 to October 18 - 1 day
- 1984 (President Ronald Reagan): October 3 to October 5 - 1 day
- 1984 (President Ronald Reagan): September 30 to October 3 - 2 days
- 1983 (President Ronald Reagan): November 10 to November 14 - 3 days
- 1982 (President Ronald Reagan): December 17 to December 21 - 3 days
- 1982 (President Ronald Reagan): September 30 to October 2 - 1 day
- 1981 (President Ronald Reagan): November 20 to November 23 - 2 days
- 1979 (President Jimmy Carter): September 30 to October 12 - 11 days
- 1978 (President Jimmy Carter): September 30 to October 18 18 days
- 1977 (President Jimmy Carter): November 30 to December 9 - 8 days
- 1977 (President Jimmy Carter): October 31 to November 9 - 8 days
- 1977 (President Jimmy Carter): September 30 to October 13 - 12 days
- 1976 (President Gerald Ford): September 30 to October 11 - 10 days
Since the modern congressional budgeting process took effect in 1976, there have been a total of seventeen separate government shutdowns (or "spending gaps" in Hill jargon). Given that we appear to be headed for another one imminently, let's look back at those experiences, the political circumstances around them and what happened as a consequence. Most of the specifics were drawn from The Washington Post print archives, which you can access for a modest sum here.
It's also important to note that not all shutdowns are created equal. Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn't necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning. Civiletti's opinions interpreted the Antideficiency Act, a law passed in 1884, as meaning that a failure to pass new spending bills required government functioning to shut down in whole or in part. So the "shutdowns" listed below that happened between 1976 tand 1979 did not always entail an actual stop to government functioning; they were often simply funding gaps that didn't have any real-world effect.