The United States has a long history of threatened and real government shutdowns, ranging from the 1995-96 government shutdowns to the most recent partial shutdown in 2019, which lasted from December 22 until January 25. Despite this long and varied history, the United States has not learned much from its past shutdowns. The risk factors, causes, and consequences remain mostly the same.
The causes of past government shutdowns are typically related to disagreements between the president and members of Congress or a well-publicized political issue. For example, the 1995-96 shutdowns were caused by a budget impasse between President Bill Clinton and Republicans in Congress over fiscal policies. By comparison, the 2019 shutdown, which lasted a record-breaking 35 days, was sparked by President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The consequences of government shutdowns range from negative economic impacts to political losses for the parties involved. During the 1995-96 shutdowns, the United States experienced steep drops in stock market prices and economic lassitude. Parts of the government were temporarily shut down, federal workers were furloughed, and welfare and food programs were disrupted. Additionally, President Clinton’s approval rating dropped significantly and he was later accused of bringing the country “to the brink of financial collapse.” The effects of the 2019 shutdown, dubbed by some the “Trump Shutdown,” were equally devastating. Over 800,000 federal workers were either furloughed or forced to work without pay, while the country experienced an estimated $11 billion loss in economic output.
Given the lengthy history of government shutdowns, one would think that the United States would learn from its past experiences. Unfortunately, however, this has not been the case. Political leaders continue to employ the same tactics to press their agenda that have proven unsuccessful time and again. This could be countered if more politicians were willing to compromise and reach bipartisan solutions for the betterment of the country. Without better communication and collaboration, another looming government shutdown should not come as a surprise.