What is the history of government shutdowns in the United States
This history of government shutdowns in the United States is relatively recent. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, government shutdowns did not exist, but since 1980 the trend of government shutdowns has not only emerged but has increasingly been evident as part of US politics. Why this has happened and its history is discussed below.
Government Shutdowns in the 1980s
The first recorded shutdown occurred on May 1, 1980 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The shutdown lasted one day and only affected the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The critical event that not only created this shutdown but allowed others to emerge later was Benjamin Civiletti's decision, who was the US Attorney General, to interpret that the Antideficiency Act of 1884 indicated that if an agency of the government does not have sufficient funds to continue its required function then that part would need to furlough its workers. Initially, it was interpreted that agencies of the US government could continue working without sufficient funds and that workers could even be paid until the appropriations could be obtained. Thus, a dispute over the appropriation and oversight of the FTC on the economy in Congress forced the agency to shutdown for one day. Although brief, this produced an important precedent.
Between 1981-1986, three government shutdowns occurred, none of which lasted more than 24 hours. These shutdowns resulted due to Regan's vetos of different appropriations sent to him by Congress. In all of these cases, Ronald Regan had wanted to make more significant cuts to the appropriations of different departments and agencies. The furloughs were shortlived but affected now hundreds of thousands of federal employees. This was also significant as now appropriations began to increasingly be seen as part of partisan tactics and ideologies. Economists had estimated even these short shutdowns affected the economy in the 10s of millions due to their disruption on the wider economy.