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Then and Now: The Truth About Government Shutdowns

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Appropriations bills are about money, and they are supposed to be solely about money. In the House of Representatives, the chamber’s own rules forbid the insertion of legislative issues on appropriations measures. Such legislative language only expands the potential for controversy, and such controversy may well lead to gridlock. So the key to the success of a continuing resolution is to reduce controversy and find compromise that will allow negotiations to take place on a longer-term solution.

That is the path that the House of Representatives took in late September 1995, as the fiscal year was ending and no appropriations were in place for the fiscal year that would begin on October 1. But by November 15, the House, under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), was becoming impatient. The House not only demanded reducing funding levels below those of current operations but also attached a rider that was completely outside the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee: They demanded a $284-per-year increase in the Medicare Part B premium.

President Clinton threatened that he would veto such a continuing resolution, and on November 14, he did.

That precedent is in many ways similar to the tactic that the House of Representatives is using in the current budget standoff. Both involve injecting unrelated policy matter into a funding resolution in hopes of using a shutdown as leverage for a policy it could not otherwise enact. It must be said, however, that the magnitude of the 1995 rider was relatively small compared to what is being demanded as the price for maintaining government services in the current standoff.

Finally, what price did the American people pay for past shutdowns? Estimates following the 1995 shutdowns placed the cost at $1.4 billion, but later analyses have considerably upped the cost. Issues not addressed in the earlier estimates included:

  • The interest payment the government was required to make to third-party vendors under the terms of the Prompt Payment Act
  • Denial of basic and important services to the American people
  • Delay in providing beneficiaries payments to which they were entitled
  • Severe demoralization of the federal workforce and the loss of talented workers to the private sector
  • Loss of contract oversight and actions by the federal government to recover from nonperformance on federal purchases
  • Failure to collect tax revenues due to the federal government as a result of diminished enforcement capabilities

One could also add to that list the loss of confidence that occurs both in this country and around the world when the United States is incapable of resolving basic issues and demonstrating that its government is able to at least provide the basic services available to the citizens of any economically and politically developed country. That makes it more difficult to persuade investors to take risks on U.S. enterprises and for consumers to be willing to make the purchases necessary to allow this economy to grow.

It is clear that those in the House who are advocating this shutdown are not only misrepresenting this country’s experience with shutdowns but do not actually understand that history. If they did, they would be taking immediate steps to reopen the federal government.

Scott Lilly is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Lilly was the Democratic staff director on the House Appropriations Committee during the 1995–1996 government shutdowns.

This post was originally published in Center for American Progress

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99 comments

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9:37PM PDT on Oct 16, 2013

ROARS with laughter greed consumed foreigners???? HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAH

David You are so full of gas its beyond belief.

11:47PM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

It appears that Ron B. and I have the same dream; that we have a two party system consisting of the Democrats, as the conservatives, and a party like the Greens.

I also dream of Elizabeth Warren as President.

10:29PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Informative article. Thank you

9:36PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

David F.....there probably isn't one country that is envious of the US right now.....It is idiots like you and the teaparty that are ruining it.....Greed?......look in the mirror david......your badge of honour is hiding where the "Sun don't shine"

9:32PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Mary B, criticism from greed consumed, envious foreigners is a badge of honor, thank you.

7:11PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

ty for a well-written article; truly food-for-thought

5:31PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

David F..... the real conspiracy is how someone like you, who claims to be "intelligent", can be so hoodwinked by the GOP.....It's so sad :-(

4:56PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Hey Mark conspiracy K, Seems every other post on this site is someone with a new conspiracy, LOL, your post shows you love conspiracy’s since you know nothing about history, I’ve got a good one you’ll love:
On July 8, 1947, numerous witnesses claim that an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and mule ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico. This is a well-known incident that many say has long been covered-up
by the U.S. Air Force, as well as other Federal Agencies and Organizations.
However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of April, year
1948, nine months after the historic day, the following people were born:

Barrack Obama Sr., Albert A. Gore, Jr., Hillary Rodham, William J. Clinton, John F. Kerry, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Charles E. Schumer, Barbara Boxer, Joe Biden.
This is the obvious consequence of aliens breeding with sheep and jack-asses. I truly hope this bit of information clears up a lot of things for you. Now you can stop wondering why they support the bill to repopulate us all Illegal Aliens.
For entertainment purposes only, however watch how many Care 2 posters will be elated over a new conspiracy that will consume them for months to come, LOL.

4:51PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

What if we hired scab representatives to replace Congress while they're "on strike"? A funny satire here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MbPwMqQAy146Wb0FAyNSLYPHooa1TQoPHYJKrRMVfWU/edit?usp=sharing

4:28PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

What Boenher really wants to do is to prove he is more 'manly' than President Obama. That the power of the US does not rest in the hands of an african american because an african american cannot rule the country and an african american can never be elected president again. Personally, I am sick of the republicans and their kowtowing to corporations and racists.

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Colleen H. Colleen H. is an Online Campaigner with Care2 and a recent transplant to San Francisco from the East... more
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