By Dylan Matthews

An empty Capitol Visitors Center during the 2013 government shutdown.

Congressional leaders once let funding expire because they didn’t want to miss a fundraiser.

We are currently in the middle of the longest-running government shutdown in American history. With 21 full days down as of Saturday January 12, and no clear end in sight, the 2018-’19 shutdown has outlasted outlast 1995’s (which ended after 21 days), previously the longest by a wide margin.

The partial shutdown began on December 22, 2018, with President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to pay for his much-promised full-length border wall with Mexico, and while both parties in Congress had floated $1.6 billion as a compromise, Trump rejected it. His $5 billion isn’t enough for a full wall, but would block off 215 additional miles that are currently unfenced (in addition to the 120 miles the administration is currently building with existing funds). Most recently Democrats offered a spending package that would maintain current funding levels for border security, which Trump rejected out of hand.

In the meantime, some 420,000 federal workers are working without pay; another 380,000 are furloughed without pay; tax refunds might be delayed; and payments for Women and Infant Children (WIC) could soon be cut for lack of funds.

Government shutdowns are familiar to most Americans, but they’re a relatively recent development. They first began as the result of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Since then, Congress has failed to authorize funding for the federal government on 21 separate occasions.

The first six of those didn’t actually affect the functioning of government at all. It wasn’t until a set of opinions issued by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in 1980 and ’81 that the government started treating “funding gaps”— periods when Congress has failed to allocate funds for the ongoing functions of government — as necessitating the full or partial shutdown of government agencies.

Here are all 20 funding gaps prior to the current one, and why they happened. When not otherwise cited, the explanations below come courtesy of this helpful piece by some dude named Dylan Matthews.

Shutdown 1: September 30 to October 11, 1976

President: Gerald Ford

Senate: Democrats (62-38), Majority Leader Mike Mansfield

House: Democrats (291-144), Speaker Carl Albert

Why: Ford vetoed a funding bill for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare (which has since been divided into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services). That alone didn’t cause a funding gap because Democrats rapidly overrode his veto, but it took until October 11 for Congress to pass a continuing resolution funding the rest of the government, whose funding had lapsed amid the HEW/Labor funding fight.

Shutdown 2: September 30 to October 13, 1977

President: Jimmy Carter

Senate: Democrats (59-41), Majority Leader Robert Byrd

House: Democrats (292-143), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: The Senate wanted to loosen restrictions on the use of Medicaid dollars to cover abortions (restrictions known informally as “the Hyde Amendment”), by allowing funding in cases of rape, incest, and when the health of the mother is in danger; at the time, only abortions necessary to save the life of the mother were funded. The House, however, insisted on maintaining the stricter ban.

The issue was addressed in amendments to a bill funding the Labor and HEW departments. The two houses couldn’t agree to a deal by the September 30 deadline, prompting a funding gap at the two departments. The gap ended when Congress agreed to punt the abortion issue to October 31.

Shutdown 3: October 31 to November 9, 1977

President: Jimmy Carter

Senate: Democrats (59-41), Majority Leader Robert Byrd

House: Democrats (292-143), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: Punting the abortion dispute didn’t work! It came back. This gap ended when Carter signed yet another short-term extension.

Shutdown 4: November 30 to December 9, 1977

President: Jimmy Carter

Senate: Democrats (59-41), Majority Leader Robert Byrd

House: Democrats (292-143), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: Congress still didn’t agree on abortion funding. But the dispute was eventually resolved and funding extended to cases of rape, incest, and mother’s health. Four years later, when Reagan took office, that funding was once again taken away.

Shutdown 5: September 30 to October 18, 1978

President: Jimmy Carter

Senate: Democrats (59-41), Majority Leader Robert Byrd

House: Democrats (292-143), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: The first Carter shutdown not about abortion! Well, not entirely about it; that did factor into a dispute about HEW funding. But beyond that, Carter vetoed a defense spending bill because it funded a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier he considered wasteful, and a public works bill because of projects he considered pork. Carter ultimately prevailed, and funding for the carrier and the projects he opposed was stripped. The rape/incest/mother’s health exceptions on abortion were retained.

Shutdown 6: September 30 to October 12, 1979

President: Jimmy Carter

Senate: Democrats (58-42), Majority Leader Robert Byrd

House: Democrats (277-158), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: Abortion, again — the House wanted to return to only allowing one exception, for the mother’s life, and the Senate wanted to retain a looser standard. The House also wanted higher pay for congressional and civil service staff. It got that change enacted but had to accept funding for abortions in the case of rape and incest (but not when the mother’s health is at risk).

Shutdown 7: November 20 to 23, 1981

President: Ronald Reagan

Senate: Republicans (53-47), Majority Leader Howard Baker

House: Democrats (244-191), Speaker Tip O’Neill

Why: This was the first shutdown, in the current sense of the term, when federal government functions were seriously curtailed. Reagan furloughed 241,000 federal workers, the first time a funding gap had led to so severe a reduction in the federal government’s operations. Reagan had demanded $8.4 billion in domestic spending cuts and promised to veto any bill that didn’t include at least half of that amount in cuts. The Senate was willing to comply, but the House insisted on bigger defense cuts and on pay increases for itself and the civil service.

The two branches reached a deal that fell $2 billion short of Reagan’s threshold, so he vetoed the deal and shut down the government. The shutdown ended quickly after Congress passed a continuing resolution for a little less than …read more

Read more here: All 20 previous government shutdowns, explained

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