Government Shutdowns: Looking back on past shutdowns

US Politics

Over the history of the U.S. Government, the government has faced 20 gaps in funding since 1976, of those 10 have resulted in partial or complete shutdowns of the U.S. government according to the History, Art & Archives of the United States House of Representatives.

With Democrats and Republicans debating over the next government funding bill and possible increase to the U.S. National Debt Limit, the next government shutdown would have began on October 1st 2021, if a deal wasn’t reached.

Could this happen in the future? A look back in time may reveal the answer.

How does the U.S. Government get funded?

According to the archives, spending bills must pass through both chambers of Congress (House and Senate) and be signed by the President to become law. These bills are conducted by Congress annually and are set to go into effect at beginning the beginning of the new fiscal year, October 1st.

What happens if Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill to fund the government?

If regular appropriation bills are not passed, Congress does have the option to pass a continuing resolution, a temporary stop-gap measure, to give members of Congress more time to pass an appropriation bill. If the continuation resolution expires without Congress appropriating new funds, parts of the federal government can experience a lapse in funding, leading to a shutdown.

How many times has the government shut down?

According to the archives, the U.S. government experienced 20 gaps in funding since the 1977 fiscal year (September 30, 1976). Of those, 10 have resulted in government shutdowns, the first reported in the 1983 fiscal year and the latest in the fiscal year of 2019.

Below is a list of all 20 funding gaps, including the 10 that resulted in government shutdowns, and the resolutions that restored funding:

Duration of
Funding Gap
(in Days)
1977September 30, 197610October 11, 1976NoH.J. Res. 1105
Pub. L. 94-473
90 Stat. 2065
1978September 30, 197712October 13, 1977NoH.J. Res. 626
Pub. L. 95-130
91 Stat. 1153
1978October 31, 19778November 9, 1977NoH.J. Res. 643
Pub. L. 95-165
91 Stat. 1323
1978November 30, 19778December 9, 1977NoH.J. Res 662
Pub. L. 95-205
91 Stat. 1460
1979September 30, 197817October 18, 1978NoH.R. 12929
Pub. L. 95-480
92 Stat. 1567

H.R. 12931
Pub. L. 95-481
92 Stat. 1591

H.J. Res. 1139
Pub. L. 95-482
92 Stat. 1603
1980September 30, 197911October 12, 1979NoH.J. Res. 412
Pub. L. 96-86
93 Stat. 656
1982November 20, 19812November 23, 1981YesH.J. Res. 368
Pub. L. 97-85
95 Stat. 1098
1983September 30, 19821October 2, 1982YesH.J. Res. 599
Pub. L. 97-276
96 Stat. 1186
1983December 17, 19823December 21, 1982NoH.J. Res. 631
Pub. L. 97-377
96 Stat. 1830
1984November 10, 19833November 14, 1983NoH.J. Res 413
Pub. L. 98-151
97 Stat. 964
1985September 30, 19842October 3, 1984NoH.J. Res. 653
Pub. L. 98-441
98 Stat. 1699
1985October 3, 19841October 5, 1984YesH.J. Res. 656
Pub. L. 98-453
98 Stat. 1731
1987October 16, 19861October 18, 1986YesH.J. Res. 738

Pub. L. 99-500
100 Stat. 1783

Pub. L. 99-591
100 Stat. 3341
1988December 18, 19871December 20, 1987NoH.J. Res. 431
Pub. L. 100-197
101 Stat. 1314
1991October 5, 19903October 9, 1990YesH.J. Res. 666
Pub. L. 101-412
104 Stat. 894
1996November 13, 19955November 19, 1995YesH.R. 2020
Pub. L. 104-52
109 Stat. 468

H.R. 2492
Pub. L. 104-53
109 Stat. 514

H.J. Res. 123
Pub. L. 104-54
109 Stat. 540
1996December 15, 199521January 6, 1996YesH.J. Res. 134
Pub. L. 104-94
110 Stat. 25
2014September 30, 201316October 17, 2013YesH.R. 2775
Pub. L. 113-46
127 Stat. 558
2018January 19, 20182January 22, 2018YesH.R. 195
Pub. L. 115-120
132 Stat. 28
2019December 21, 201834January 25, 2019YesH.J. Res. 28
Pub. L. 116-5
133 Stat. 10
Funding Gaps since 1977
Courtesy: History, Art & Archives of the United States House of Representatives.

How could the 2022 Fiscal Year have the next U.S. Government Shutdown?

On Monday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to fund the government at current levels and suspend the debt ceiling. Republicans and Democrats are at odds over a plan to raise the debt ceiling, with Republicans saying they will not support a funding bill that includes the proposed increase.

Without a funding bill, the U.S. Government would have shut down starting midnight on Thursday, October 1st. If Congress was unable to raise the federal debt ceiling, the U.S. is on track to default on the national debt, for the first time in the nation’s history, according to The Hill.

What would happen if the U.S. defaults on the national debt?

According to CBS News, if the U.S. government cannot pay its bills, millions of Americans would be affected. Social Security payments would not go out; U.S. troops and federal civilian employees would not be paid. Veterans could see compensation or pension payments lapse. And millions of Americans on food assistance would see benefits stop.

CBS News also states financial services firm Moody’s Analytics stated a default would be a “catastrophic blow” to the economic recovery. Its analysis showed if lawmakers remained at odds after the debt ceiling was breached, nearly 6 million jobs would be lost, the unemployment rate would climb back up to nearly 9% and stock prices would be cut by almost a third, wiping out $15 trillion in household wealth.

Will the U.S. Government shutdown happen?

Short answer, no.

According to the United States Senate, H.R. 5305, a continuing resolution to fund the government, passed in the Senate by a 65 to 35 vote in favor of the resolution, over the 60-vote threshold needed for approval. According to the bill, federal agencies will remain funded through December 3rd.

According to CBS News, the House of Representatives have passed the continuing resolution, in a 254 to 175 vote in favor of the resolution.

According to The Hill, President Biden on Thursday signed a stopgap bill that will keep government funded through early December, officially averting a government shutdown for now.

While the government shutdown is on hold until December 3rd, Congress now has to act on the looming debt ceiling situation.

If the debt limit is not raised, the United States will default for the first time on the nation’s history on October 18th.

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