Why it’s important:
When the government shuts down, some non-essential government activities stop. This affects things like health programs, Social Security, Medicare, food assistance, inspections of food and drugs, and loans for small businesses. During a shutdown, government workers, both those who stop working and those considered “excepted,” do not get paid. They receive their pay later when the government reopens.
The longest government shutdown ever happened from late 2018 to early 2019 during President Donald Trump’s time in office. It ended when Trump gave in on immigration because he didn’t get the money he wanted for a border wall. This time, Trump is supporting the Republican members of Congress who don’t want to make any compromises to keep the government open.
In the past, shutdowns were often a battle between the party in control of Congress and the President. But this time, it’s more about differences among Republican members of the House of Representatives, with some hardliners opposing spending plans supported by their own leaders.
The previous longest shutdown was 21 days in 1995-1996, when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich couldn’t agree. Republicans wanted to cut social programs and undo a tax increase from 1993. During President Jimmy Carter’s time, there were three shutdowns, partly because of debates about whether Medicaid should pay for abortion procedures.
President Ronald Reagan had eight government shutdowns during his time, mainly because of disagreements over spending on domestic versus defense matters. In 2013, there was a shutdown under President Barack Obama mainly because of Republican opposition to Obamacare.
Before the 1980s, federal agencies kept running without full funding, assuming they’d get the money later. But in 1980 and 1981, U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti changed that. He said agencies couldn’t spend more than what Congress had given them by law. This is still the rule today.
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