How Long Did the Government Shutdown Last in 1995? Depends on Which Time

The last time the federal government shut down, starting on December 15, 1995, it lasted for 21 days. And guess how many members of the public expected that it wouldn't happen?


The scenario was a Newt Gingrich-led House of Representatives, at war with a Democratic-led Senate and Bill Clinton in the White House. Gingrich had recently unveiled his "Contract With America," and having trouble pushing it through the Senate, he threatened not to have the chamber vote on raising the debt ceiling as a negotiating tactic.

Disaster was averted when a continuing resolution was passed, giving the parties another month to negotiate. But at the end of it, they were still at odds. As a result, on November 13, 1995, the federal government shut down. On November 19, Clinton and Congress agreed on the broad concept of balancing the budget in seven years, and another continuing resolution was passed.

The talks yielded no progress and on December 15, 1995, the most recent federal government shutdown went into effect and lasted 21 days, which only ended on January 6, 1996, when President Clinton and Congress agreed to a seven year balanced budget, with modest spending cuts and tax increases.

In the end, Gingrich and the Republicans managed to wrangle Clinton into negotiations over the budget, but lost heavily in a political sense. A plurality of Americans were deeply unhappy about the shutdown itself, which they blamed on Republicans.

If you look at the polls, a similar scenario could play out this time. Will it be another policy win, but political loss, for Republicans?

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Michael McCutcheon

Michael was formerly special projects editor at Mic. Prior to that, he worked at the Open Society Foundations on electoral reform. A native Seattleite, he's still mad about the SuperSonics.

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