When American Government Fails

Government shutdown 2019

Government shutdown 2019

A shutdown of the federal government is a failure of our form of government. It happens when one party or another attempts political blackmail, and the other side calls its bluff. It is a relatively new thing in American politics. And it is being used increasingly often. Here’s a brief history of federal government shutdowns:

Year President Duration Putative Cause
1981 Reagan 1 day Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it didn’t have all the cuts he wanted.
1984 Reagan Half a day Reagan opposed riders in an appropriation bill
1990 George H. W. Bush 2 days Appropriation bill included a tax increase Newt Gingrich opposed.
1995 Clinton 5 days Clinton vetoed the appropriation bill in a fight over over funding for Medicare, education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget.
1995-1996 Clinton 21 days A continuation of the earlier fight.
2013 Obama 16 days Riders to the appropriation bill repealing and delaying the Affordable Care Act and the debt limit
2018 Trump 4 days A fight over the omission of language addressing immigration and specifically the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals – “Dreamers” – in the appropriations bill.
2018-2019 Trump 19 days and counting Trump changed his mind and insisted on an appropriation of $5 billion for his border wall in the budget resolution for about 30% of the government

When you see the shutdowns laid out in a table as above, there are some striking points:

  • Shutting down the government to coerce leverage a political advantage is a relatively recent development in American history. Prior to 1981, it was too extreme to be seriously considered.
  • It was invented by Republicans.
  • All instances of its use involve Republicans – sometimes a Republican-controlled branch of Congress, sometimes a Republican president – attempting to coerce leverage a result. Most recently, it’s President Trump attempting blackmail Congress to get his wall.
  • None of the efforts have been notably successful. Put another way, it doesn’t work.

WC will go out on a limb here: it isn’t going to work this time, either.