On Saturday, September 30th, Congress sent a temporary funding bill to President Biden to avert a government shutdown; the bill funds the U.S. government until November 17, 2023. The history of United States federal government shutdowns is deeply intertwined with the principles and framework set forth in the United States Constitution. The Constitution, adopted in 1787, established the foundation for the federal government’s operation and the separation of powers among its branches. However, it also left room for political disputes and the potential for budgetary conflicts that could lead to shutdowns. The power of the purse, which includes funding and appropriations, was vested in the legislative branch, specifically in Congress. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” This provision gave Congress the authority to control government spending and allocate resources.
Despite these constitutional provisions, government shutdowns began to occur in the late 19th century when disagreements between Congress and the president over budgetary matters led to funding gaps. The first recorded government shutdown occurred in 1879 when President Rutherford B. Hayes and Congress clashed over funding for the U.S. Army. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that shutdowns became a more regular occurrence. During this time, conflicts between the Congress and presidents led to shutdowns over issues ranging from social spending to healthcare reform. These episodes of political brinkmanship often left federal employees without paychecks and government services in limbo.
One of the most notable and prolonged government shutdowns occurred in 2013, when a budgetary impasse between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans led to a 16-day shutdown. This event had a significant economic impact, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $24 billion. It highlighted the extent to which partisan gridlock had become a defining feature of American politics. Subsequent shutdowns, including the 35-day closure in 2018-2019 over border security funding, underscored the ongoing dysfunction within the federal government.
The history of government shutdowns in the United States reflects not only the political polarization of the nation but also the shortcomings of the budgetary process. While shutdowns have often been framed as battles over specific policy issues, they reveal deeper problems in the way the federal government operates. As Americans continue to grapple with these challenges, finding solutions that prevent future shutdowns and promote more effective governance remains a pressing concern for the nation.
This week’s Current Events resources examine the ongoing conversations around social media’s impact on the mental health of students and young people. The resources shared provide information and context around the ongoing lawsuits aimed at social media companies’ impact on its young users and the way communities are approaching mitigating and addresses the associated issues. For additional CLP materials on government shutdowns, review a previous Current Events post here.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What role does the U.S. Constitution play in U.S. federal government shutdowns?
- What may be the immediate and long term consequences of a U.S. federal government shutdown?
- What would be the effects of deeming each part of the federal government essential? Is that a good idea?
- Why do you think the United States government remains the only global government that can shutdown?
- Why might certain services still be run by the federal government, even when there is a shutdown?
- What, if any, liability or consequences should lawmakers face when overseeing a federal government shutdown?
- In your opinion, what are some potential solutions to avoid federal government shutdowns in the future?
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and U.S. Federal Government Shutdown Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
Government Shutdown, Civics101: A Podcast
McCarthy confronts key decisions as Congress hurtles toward government shutdown, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN, September 26, 2023
Episode 888: The First Shutdown, Planet Money, NPR, January 16, 2019
What government shutdowns since 1981 can tell us about the state of politics today, Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR, September 24, 2023
Article I, Section 9, Clause 7: Overview of Appropriations Clause, Constitution Annotated
Antideficiency Act Resources, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Government Shutdowns Q&A: Everything You Should Know, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, September 5, 2023
A history of government shutdowns: The 14 times funding has lapsed since 1980, CBS News, September 27, 2023
Millions of Americans will lose food assistance if the government shuts down, Wisconsin Public Radio, September 25, 2023
Here’s How a Government Shutdown Could Affect You, Time, September 25, 2023
Prospects dim as US scrambles to avoid government shutdown, BBC News, September 29, 2023
Does Congress get paid during a government shutdown?, CBS News, September 29, 2023
Will Supreme Court Shut Down if Republican Fighting Reaches Breaking Point?, Newsweek, September 19, 2023
Government Shutdown Could Delay Climate Action, Scientific American, September 29, 2023
Gov’t shutdown could be good for market -strategist, Reuters, September 25, 2023
A good old government shutdown is exactly what we need right now, The Hill, September 18, 2023
Editorial: As Congress again flounders with funding negotiations, it should end government shutdowns, Daily Camera, September 27, 2023
Lesson plan: Shutting down government shutdowns, PBS NewsHour Classroom
Video Clip: Federal Workers and the Government Shutdown, C-SPAN Classroom
Bell Ringer: What is Affected By a Government Shutdown?, C-SPAN Classroom
Government Shutdown: A Teacher’s Guide | PBS NewsHour, PBS Learning Media
What’s Up with the Shutdown?, National Geographic
Resources for Younger Students:
US Government Shuts Down (ARTICLE UPDATED), TeachingKids.com
Lesson Plan: The Three Branches of Government, Junior Scholastic
(H)our History Lesson: Teaching Engaged Citizenship, Federalism, National Park Service