Shutdown Deja Vu: What Politicians Can Learn from 1995

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President Bill Clinton presided over two government shutdowns in November and December 1995. Official White House photo.

President Bill Clinton presided over two government shutdowns in November and December 1995. Official White House photo. Image by Bob McNeely.

Among the many express powers delegated to the House of Representatives in Article I of the Constitution is the “power of the purse,” the generating of appropriations or funds necessary in the functioning of the government.

If the government does not pass a budget at the end of the government’s fiscal year, September 30, 2013, all but the essential parts of government must close. Often, as in 1995, continuing resolutions keep government functioning, pending passage of a new budget.

That was not the case in November 1995 and is not the case in the current shutdown crisis.

Current Republican leadership legitimizes the government shutdown as a bargaining chip in negotiations with President Obama over the Affordable Care Act. Writing in the Washington Post on October 1, 2013, Kathleen Parker comments that, “The shutdown is leverage for the coming debt-ceiling fight…” not unlike the Republican agenda in 1995.

According to President Clinton, “Gingrich had been threatening since April to shut the government down and put America in default if I didn’t accept his budget.”

As in 1995, default – resulting from Congressional refusal to raise the national debt ceiling, could have dire economic consequences impacting all citizens.

Interest rates and everyday prices would rise, jeopardizing the economic recovery. President Clinton used the same arguments President Clinton in 1995. Higher interest rates, he noted, would result in higher home mortgage prices since many mortgages featured adjustable rates.

Voter Perceptions in 1996

The 1995-1996 shutdowns backfired for Republicans. This was a time before social media like Facebook and Twitter; irate voters, responding to radio talk show hosts, newspaper headlines, and political cartoons, lit up the Capitol switchboard with angry comments. Newt Gingrich was portrayed as a “Cry Baby” in the press. Writer John F. Harris, in his book recounting the Clinton years in the White House, concludes that, “By large margins, voters were blaming Gingrich and the Republicans for a shutdown that they believed showed politicians at their petty and bickering worst.”

Compromise and Negotiation: Will History Repeat Itself?

Compromise and negotiation in 1996 ended the rancorous budget battles and voters reelected President Clinton to a second term. Like the current shutdown of government, political differences are rooted in ideological goals. In 2004 Bill Clinton summarized what he believed to be the cause: “The big dispute involved what responsibilities the federal government should assume for the common good.”


Clinton, Bill. My Life. (2004). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Harris, John F. The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House. (2005). New York: Random House.

Parker, Kathleen. Shutdown, schmutdown. (2013). Washington Post Opinions. Accessed October 8, 2013.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Streich, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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  1. […] very rare; it has happened a mere four times over the past 30 years. The last time we had a government shutdown was 1996, when Bill Clinton was in office and Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Coincidentally or […]

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