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How long do government shutdowns last?

Once again, the US is facing a government shutdown as hardline House Republicans stymie attempts to pass appropriation bills to fund the government.

US braces for a government shutdown. How long could it last?

Republicans control the House of Representatives by a narrow margin, which is giving hardliners in the party outsized sway. The GOP Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is struggling to herd members of his party to pass critical legislation to fund the US government. They have until the end of this week to approve or extend funding, or at midnight Sunday 1 October the federal government will shut down.

Expectations are low that they will be able to pass funding that is palatable to the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Biden. The hardliners are also against passing a continuing resolution bill, which could tide the government over while lawmakers hash out the necessary annual appropriations bills to fund agencies and programs.

Since the modern budgetary processes were first introduced in 1976 there have been 20 “funding gaps,” when funds were not appropriated to the federal government for a few hours or even days. Of those funding gaps, four were so substantial and consequential that they resulted in a government shutdown, when certain federal agencies were forced to limit their function and withhold paychecks for staff.

Here’s the four longest shutdowns in US history…

Clinton Administration: 14-19 November, 1995

The earliest instance of these prolonged shutdowns came during the winter of 1995 when then-President Bill Clinton vetoed the funding bill sent to him by a Republican-led Congress. The first round of shutdown lasted for five days and saw as many as 800,000 federal workers furloughed. That standoff was resolved when Congress submitted a temporary budget bill, but was initially unable to find a permanent solution.

Clinton Administration: 16 December, 1995 – 6 January, 1996

The temporary funding bill agreed in December 1995 soon expired and Congress was once against met with short shrift from Clinton, who also vetoed their replacement funding proposal. The second only caused 284,000 furloughs but public polls generally found that most voters held the Republicans in Congress responsible for the shutdown. The 21-day shutdown may have actually bolstered Clinton’s popularity and has been linked to his successful 1996 election campaign.

Obama Administration: 1 – 7 October, 2013

The earlier part of President Obama’s second term in office was shaped by funding negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It was a landmark piece of social legislation that would become a cornerstone of his achievements in the Oval Office but Obama was made to work hard for it. A House and Senate standoff over funding for the enormous programme resulted in a 16-day shutdown, during which 800,000 federal employees were furloughed indefinitely.

Trump Administration: 22 December, 2018 – 25 January, 2019

By far the longest federal shutdown to date came during the Trump presidency, which latest for 35 days and affected nine executive departments and a quarter of all government activities. The dispute arose from a disagreement on Trump’s request for $5.7 billion in federal funds to pay for his much-vaunted US-Mexico border wall. On 25 January, Trump relented and agreed to sign a stopgap funding bill to reopen the government and he went on to utilise a national disaster fund to pay for the wall without Congressional consent.