Locked Out: Unpacking the Impacts of the Government Shutdown

A government shutdown occurs when a government discontinues providing services that are not deemed “essential.” This typically happens when there is a delay in the approval of the federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

What is a Government Shutdown?

A government shutdown refers to the process where the non-essential discretionary federal programs close due to a lack of funding. In the U.S., this happens when Congress fails to pass, or the President refuses to sign, appropriations legislation funding government operations and agencies. If interim or full-year appropriations are not enacted into law, the current interpretation of the Anti-deficiency Act requires that the federal government begin a “shutdown” of the affected activities.

Why Does It Happen?

The primary cause of a government shutdown is the failure of Congress to pass appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30 in the U.S. The most common cause of a government shutdown, especially in the U.S., is the failure of Congress and the President to agree on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This can be due to differences in spending priorities, policy disagreements, or political strategies.

Disagreements over specific policies can sometimes trigger a shutdown. For instance, lawmakers might attach controversial policy provisions to must-pass funding bills, leading to gridlock. On occasion, political leaders might see a potential shutdown as a strategic move, hoping to force the other side to concede on key issues.

Effects of a Government Shutdown

Many federal employees are furloughed, meaning they are put on temporary unpaid leave. However, those deemed “essential” continue to work, often without immediate pay.

Many government services and agencies close or reduce operations. This includes national parks, research activities, and various administrative services.

A prolonged shutdown can have adverse effects on the national economy. Federal workers without pay, reduced government spending, and decreased consumer and business confidence can contribute to economic slowdowns.

Government shutdowns often significantly frustrate the public and can cause a decline in the approval ratings of officeholders, especially if prolonged or causing noticeable disruptions.

Resolution and Aftermath

To end a shutdown, Congress must pass and the President must sign a funding bill. This can be a continuing resolution (a temporary funding measure), an omnibus bill (a combination of multiple appropriations bills), or a regular appropriations bill.

Once a funding solution is enacted, the government can fully reopen, and furloughed federal employees typically receive back pay for the time they were on leave. However, federal contractors and the broader economy may not recover lost funds or opportunities.

Historical Context

Government shutdowns, particularly in the U.S., have occurred multiple times. Some of the most notable shutdowns in recent history include:


In the mid-1990s, the political landscape of the United States was marked by heightened partisanship. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was in the White House, while the Republicans, led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, had recently taken control of both chambers of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, an event dubbed the “Republican Revolution.”

Causes of the Shutdowns

The primary cause of the shutdowns was disagreements over the federal budget. Republicans aimed to balance the budget in seven years, enact tax cuts, and make significant changes to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare. President Clinton disagreed with the depth and nature of the proposed cuts, leading to a stalemate.

The political climate was charged, with both sides trying to assert their agendas. Speaker Gingrich and the Republican majority believed they had a mandate from the American people to enact conservative reforms, while President Clinton was determined to protect certain programs and his vision for the country.

There were also personal and public relations battles at play. A notable moment occurred when Gingrich suggested that a negative encounter with Clinton during a trip on Air Force One contributed to the shutdown, a claim that was widely mocked and portrayed as petty.

The Shutdown

There were two shutdowns during this period the first shutdown was November 14-19, 1995 it had lasted five days. It was resolved when both sides agreed to a temporary spending bill. However, they still had significant differences over the budget.

The second shutdown was December 16, 1995 – January 6, 1996 and this was the longest and most severe shutdown in U.S. history at the time, lasting 21 days. It ended when both sides agreed to a compromise which was a seven-year balanced budget plan with modest tax cuts and spending reductions, but not as deep as initially proposed by the Republicans.


During each shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal workers experienced furloughs. Although they received back pay later, the stoppage disrupted their lives and work.

Many government services were halted or curtailed, including the issuance of visas and passports, closure of national parks, and suspension of health and welfare services.

The U.S. economy took a hit, with significant revenue losses in tourism and other sectors. The GDP growth for the quarter was also affected.

The shutdowns were seen as a political defeat for the Republicans, especially Speaker Gingrich. Many Americans viewed the GOP’s actions as overly aggressive and blamed them more than President Clinton for the shutdowns. This played a role in Clinton’s successful re-election campaign in 1996.

The 1995-1996 government shutdowns serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of extreme partisanship and the importance of compromise in governance. They highlight the real-world consequences of political battles and the delicate balance of power in a divided government. The events also set a precedent, influencing strategies and public perceptions in subsequent shutdowns.

In conclusion, the government shutdowns during Bill Clinton’s presidency were not just political events but moments that affected millions of Americans, shaped public opinion, and had lasting implications for U.S. politics and governance.

The 2013, Obama Shutdown

By 2013, the political climate in the United States was highly polarized. The Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, held the presidency and a majority in the Senate, while the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. A primary point of contention between the two parties was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare, which was signed into law in 2010.

Causes of the Shutdown

The central issue leading to the shutdown was the Republican Party’s strong opposition to the ACA. Many Republicans viewed it as an overreach of government power and were concerned about its potential economic impact.

As the end of the fiscal year approached on September 30, 2013, Congress needed to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government. House Republicans passed several versions of the CR that included provisions to defund, delay, or otherwise alter the ACA. The Democratic-controlled Senate repeatedly rejected these provisions.

The standoff was emblematic of the broader political divide in the country. Both sides were entrenched in their positions, with little willingness to compromise.

The Shutdown

Starting on October 1, 2013, the government entered a shutdown that lasted 16 days. It officially ended on October 17, 2013, when an agreement was reached.


 Around 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, while another 1.3 million were required to work without known payment dates. Though they were eventually paid retroactively, the uncertainty and disruption affected their financial stability and morale.

Numerous government services were either halted or curtailed. National parks and monuments closed, research projects were paused, and many federal agencies operated with reduced staff, leading to delays and disruptions.

The U.S. economy suffered due to the shutdown. Standard & Poor’s estimated that it took $24 billion out of the economy. Consumer and business confidence was shaken, and the GDP growth for the quarter was impacted.

The shutdown, coupled with concerns about the U.S. debt ceiling, led to worries about a potential U.S. default on its debt. The events internationally questioned the stability of the U.S. political system and its potential economic repercussions, despite averting a default.

Public opinion polls showed that more Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown than Democrats. However, both parties saw a dip in their favorability ratings. The events of the shutdown played a role in the political discourse leading up to the 2014 midterm elections.

Resolution and Aftermath

On October 16, 2013, Congress passed a bill to fund the government through January 15, 2014, and suspend the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. The bill made no significant changes to the ACA, though it did include a provision for income verification for ACA subsidies. President Obama signed the bill into law on October 17, ending the shutdown.

The 2013 government shutdown serves as a testament to the challenges of governance in a polarized political environment. It underscored the tangible consequences of legislative gridlock and highlighted the importance of compromise in a democratic system. The event remains a reference point in discussions about U.S. political dynamics and the potential pitfalls of deep-seated partisan disagreements.

How Can We Avoid A Government Shutdown

One proposal suggests automatically enacting a continuing resolution at the previous year’s funding levels. This would occur if a new budget isn’t approved by the start of the fiscal year. This would keep the government running, albeit without any adjustments for changing needs or priorities.

Instead of annual budgeting, some suggest moving to a two-year budget cycle. This would provide more time for deliberation and reduce the frequency of potential budget standoffs.

This approach would withhold pay from members of Congress if they fail to pass a budget on time. The idea is to provide a direct personal incentive for lawmakers to ensure the government remains funded.

This process allows certain budget-related bills to be passed with a simple majority in the Senate, avoiding the threat of a filibuster. Expanding the use of budget reconciliation could streamline the budgeting process, though it might also lead to more partisan budgets.

Empowering the budget committees in Congress with more authority and resources could make the budgeting process more efficient and less susceptible to political gamesmanship.

Keeping the public informed and engaged in the budgeting process can exert pressure on lawmakers to act responsibly. Public opinion can be a powerful force in preventing or ending shutdowns.

Strategies to Mitigate Government Shutdowns

Engaging neutral third-party mediators to facilitate negotiations between opposing parties can help find common ground and resolve disputes before they escalate to a shutdown.

Implementing rules that prevent non-budgetary items (like policy riders) from being attached to essential spending bills can reduce the points of contention during budget negotiations.

Implementing a system where the longer a shutdown lasts, the more severe the consequences become for lawmakers or their priorities. For example, after a set period, non-essential projects or benefits in lawmakers’ districts could face cuts.

Regularly educating lawmakers, especially new members of Congress, about the budgeting process, the importance of timely budgets, and the consequences of shutdowns can instill a sense of responsibility.

Encouraging more bipartisan collaboration and communication can help bridge divides and foster a more cooperative environment. Bipartisan caucuses, retreats, or workshops can facilitate this.

While these strategies can help reduce the risk of government shutdowns, their effectiveness depends on the political will of lawmakers and the broader political environment. In highly polarized times, even the best mechanisms can be tested. However, with commitment and a focus on governance, shutdowns can be made less frequent and less disruptive.

Need Help? Call Us Now!

Do not forget that when you or anyone you know is facing a criminal charge, you have us, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, by your side to help you build the best defense case for you. We will work tirelessly in your best interest and strive to obtain the best possible outcome that can benefit you, even during challenging times like a government shutdown. We can explain everything you need to know about your trial and how to defend your case best, guiding you step by step through the criminal process.

Therefore, do not hesitate to call us if you find yourself or someone you know that is facing criminal charges unsure about the court system. We will work with you to give you the best type of defense that can help you solve your case. It is vital to have someone explain the result of the charge to you and guide you in the best possible way.

At the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, our professional and knowledgeable criminal law attorneys specialize in building a defense case tailored to your needs. We leverage our experience to pursue the best possible outcome for you.

Also, at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we offer you a free consultation at your convenience. You may choose to have your appointment via Zoom, google meet, email, or an in-person appointment; and we will provide you with as much advice and information as possible so you can have the best possible result in your case. 

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