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The 5 longest government shutdowns in US history, explained

The current government shutdown is now the longest shutdown in U.S. history. How does the past compare?

UPDATE: Jan. 12, 2019

The partial government shutdown is now in the record books, listed as the longest ever. 

President Trump has faced criticism about his plan to end the shutdown. On Saturday he shared the following messages on Twitter: 

Lawmakers are due back in Washington in the new week, the Associated Press Reports. 

UPDATE: Jan. 11, 2019

The current government shutdown is now tied for the longest in U.S. history, leading to some 800,000 workers to miss their first paychecks since the impasse over border wall funding began.

UPDATE: Jan. 10, 2019

The government shutdown has entered Day 20, just one day shy of tying a record for the longest in the country's history.

Original Story:

The government shutdown has now reached Day 18, and though a new Congress has been sworn in, it is still unclear when an agreement will be reached to allow the government to be up and running again. 

The ongoing government shutdown is now tied for second-longest in US history, only to be outdone by the Clinton vs. Gingrich debacle of 1995.

This shutdown comes down to funding for a border wall. While President Donald Trump insists on $5 billion included in the spending budget to build the wall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats have said that they will not include funding for a border wall.

Past shutdowns showcase previous standoffs between presidents and Congress and between the House and the Senate and even between members of the same political party. Read on to find out what happened and how these past issues were resolved.

RELATED: Shutdown day 18: Trump, Democrats taking border wall fight to prime-time TV

Clinton vs. Gingrich

Duration: 21 days, beginning Dec. 5, 1995, and ending Jan. 6, 1996

President: Bill Clinton

What happened?

Newt Gingrich’s Ultimatum: Former-President Bill Clinton must approve cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs, or Gingrich would shut the government down. However, when asked to explain why he had decided to shutter the government, Gingrich said that on an Air Force One trip to attend the funeral for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Clinton hadn’t talked to him. To top it off, Gingrich explained, he had been forced to exit from the back of the plane.

"It's petty...but I think it's human," said Gingrich in a 1995 interview.

Clinton vetoed the bill, triggering a government shutdown between November 14 and 19. This shutdown triggered yet another shutdown later in the year, which went on to become the longest in US government history.

Carter vs. Congress

Duration: 18 days, beginning Sept. 30, 1978, and ending Oct. 18, 1978

President: Jimmy Carter

What happened?

Congress passed a defense bill including funding for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Former-President Carter deemed the carrier as a waste of federal funds and vetoed that bill, along with a public works appropriations bill that included water projects also deemed wasteful. Spending was also delayed due to yet another dispute concerning funding for abortion under Medicaid.

A new defense bill which did not include funding for a carrier was passed, as was a new public works bill. The previous year’s decisions on abortion funding (see below) was kept the same.

RELATED: VERIFY: Who gets paid during a government shutdown?

The Obamacare Shutdown

Duration: 16 days, beginning Oct. 1, 2013, and ending Oct. 17, 2013

President: Barack Obama

What happened?

Perhaps still fresh in the minds of some individuals, the Obamacare shutdown in 2013 resulted from a Republican-controlled House submitting a continuing resolution to fund the government that did not include funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

The Senate rejected the bill and after some back and forth between the two chambers, the government shut down. The shutdown, however, did not stop the rollout of Obamacare because 85 percent of its funding was already covered as part of the mandatory budget, much like Social Security and Medicare.

In September 2015, former-Speaker of the House John Boehner rehashed his thoughts on the shutdown period during an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation: “The Bible says beware of false prophets,” said Boehner. “And there are people out there, you know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean, this whole notion that we’re going to shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013—this plan never had a chance.”

The Abortion Shutdown

Duration: 12 days, beginning Sept. 30, 1977, and ending Oct. 13, 1977

President: Jimmy Carter

What happened? 

Though Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency, intra-party fighting led to this 12-day government shutdown. The House insisted on continuing a ban on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother was at stake. 

The Senate wanted to make allowances for cases of rape and incest. In the end, the House won, and the Medicaid ban was continued until Oct. 31 to give negotiators more time to work on a compromise.

However, this was far from the end of the fight. Two subsequent shutdowns (yes, TWO), lasting eight days each, resulted from this argument between the House and Senate over funding for abortion through Medicaid.  Eventually, on Dec. 9, a deal was brokered in which exceptions were made allowing Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases where the mother’s life is endangered, in cases of rape and incest, and in cases where it is necessary to protect the mother’s health.

RELATED: Trump to travel to southern border as shutdown rolls on

Higher pay for Congress, fewer abortions

Duration: 11 days, beginning Sept. 30, 1979, and ending Oct. 12, 1979

President: Jimmy Carter

What happened? 

In yet another spat over abortion funding during Carter’s presidency, the lower house wanted to limit federal abortion spending exclusively to cases where the mother’s life was in danger, as was the issue two years before. The House also wanted to raise congressional and senior civil servant pay, which the Senate opposed. 

Eventually, the House got its pay raise but had to allow abortion funding in cases of rape and incest (but not when the mother’s health is in danger) as a compromise.


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