A Brief History of Shutdowns

Ben Lewandowski

The U.S Government shutdown, which began December 22nd, is currently on its way towards becoming the longest in history. Debates over a budget that includes funding for a border wall are divided largely along party lines, with the new majority Democratic Congress not listening to demands by President Trump for a $5,000,000,000 wall payment.

The first official U.S. government shutdown lasted 10 days in 1976 when Gerald Ford vetoed funding for the departments’ of labor and health, education, and welfare. It was eventually overridden by Congress. The longest government shutdown in the U.S. was during the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton and Republicans argued over provisions to increase Medicare premiums and balance the budget in a shutdown set off in part due to House Speaker Newt Gingrich feeling snubbed after having to exit Air Force One from the back of the plane after a trip to Israel. Negotiations resumed but were unsuccessful. A twenty-one-day shutdown ensued before Clinton eventually got the balanced budget he required.

The most recent shutdown is not too dissimilar to those of the past in that it is based on a presidential budget issue that has hit a sticking point in one of the houses of Congress. The key difference between this new shutdown and the others mentioned is that, in this case, the issue is symbolic and not much more. According to the Brookings Institute, before including maintenance, cost estimates of a wall have ranged from President Trump’s $12 billion to House Democrats’ estimate of $70 billion. The Washington Post and Department of Homeland Security estimate the cost to be around $24 billion dollars, but Brookings says that this “may be a major underestimate.” Trump’s demand of $5 billion is less than a quarter of a realistic estimate, before factoring in maintenance.

Trump’s claim that Mexico will pay for the wall has proven to be fruitless, and as a result, he has let the government be shut down in an effort to score a symbolic victory for his supporters, many of whom voted for him on the promise of a border wall.