Timeline of U.S. Government Shutdowns

Updated July 22, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Some economists argue that the U.S. defaulted when the federal government restructured bonds issued to fund the Revolutionary War.


Some economists argue that the U.S. defaulted when Congress passed a bill making it illegal for creditors to demand payment in physical gold.

September 30, 1976

The government shuts down for ten days, from September 30 to October 11, when President Gerald Ford vetoes a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) as well as the U.S. Department of Labor. The reason he gives for the veto is out of control spending. By October 1, Congress, controlled by the Democrats, votes to override the veto. However, it takes until October 11 to agree on a resolution on funding gaps in all parts of the federal government.

September 30, 1977

The government shuts down for 12 days, from September 30 to October 13, because the fight over abortion in the House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, creates a funding gap in the Department of Labor and HEW. The House wants to keep the ban on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortion, except for when the mother's life is at risk. However, the Senate wants to extend the exceptions to rape or incest. A temporary agreement is made on October 13 so that the shutdown can end while Congress spends more time negotiating.

October 31, 1977

When the temporary agreement made on October 13 expires, the government shuts down for eight days beginning on Halloween. This shutdown lasts until November 9 when President Jimmy Carter signs a second funding agreement to allow Congress more time to negotiate.

November 30, 1977

The government shuts down one more time in 1977 when the House refuses to budge on the issue of Medicaid funding abortions for any other reason other than the mother's life is at risk. This shutdown lasts for eight days, from November 30 until December 9, when finally a deal is made. In the end, the Senate wins and Medicaid is allowed to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest and if the mother's health is at risk.

September 30, 1978

The government shuts down for 18 days, from September 30 until October 18. This shutdown is caused by President Carter vetoing a defense bill and a public works appropriations bill. Carter's cites wasteful spending as the reason for his veto.

September 30, 1979

The government shuts down for 11 days, from September 30 until October 12, when the House and Senate are once again at odds over abortion. The House wants to restrict federal spending on abortion to only cases where the mother's life is at risk. The Senate wishes to keep abortion funding for cases of rape and incest as well as when the mother's life is at risk. The House also pushes for a 5.5 percent pay increase for senior civil servants and members of Congress, a move the Senate opposes.

November 20, 1981

The government shuts down for two days, from November 20 to November 23, because President Ronald Reagan vetoes a spending bill that comes two billion dollars short of the cuts he wants. The Democratically-controlled House asks for pay raises for senior civil servants and for Congress. The House also asks for larger cuts in defense. A temporary bill is agreed on so Congress has more time to work out the issues.

September 30, 1982

The government shuts down for one day on September 30 because Congress passes the needed spending bills a day late. The government re-opens on October 2.

December 17, 1982

The government shuts down for three days, from December 17 to December 21. Both the House and Senate push for job program funding, but receive opposition from President Reagan. Meanwhile, the House opposes MX missile funding. In the end, Reagan drops the push to fund MX missiles and Congress drops their jobs plan. President Reagan agrees to fund the Legal Services Corporation in exchange for more aid to Israel.

November 10, 1983

The government shuts down for three days, from November 10 until November 14. This shutdown happens because President Reagan and the Democratic-controlled House are at odds. The House wants defense and foreign aid spending cuts, with increased funding for education. An agreement is made when the House reduces their desired amount of education funding and agrees to MX missile funding. The House gets its foreign aid and defense cuts as well as a ban on oil and gas leasing in federal wildlife refuges. An agreement to prohibit government employee health insurance from paying for abortions is also made.

September 30, 1984

The government shuts down for two days, September 30 to October 3, when Congress and President Reagan cannot agree on a deal. The House wants a crime-fighting package which President Reagan supports. However, the House also wants a water projects package which President Reagan does not support. A temporary extension is passed.

October 3, 1984

The government shuts down for one day on October 3 when the temporary extension expires. Congress agrees to drop its water projects package, but the crime-fighting package remains in the deal. Aid to the Nicaraguan Contras is also approved in this deal. The government re-opens on October 5.

October 16, 1986

The government shuts down for one day on October 16. The Democratic dominated House is once again at odds with President Reagan and the Republican-controlled Senate. The House makes several compromises in order to keep its welfare package in the deal. The government re-opens on October 18.

December 18, 1987

The government shuts down for one day on December 18 because the House and Senate want to cut funding to the Contras. They also want the Federal Communications Commissions to re-enforce the Fairness Doctrine. Congress drops the Fairness Doctrine issue in order to get non-lethal aid to the Contras. The government re-opens on December 20.

October 5, 1990

The government shuts down for three days, from October 5 to October 9, when President George H.W. Bush vetoes a continuing resolution because it does not include a deficit reduction package. The House does not override his veto, causing a shutdown. Congress then adds a deficit reduction package to its continuing resolution and the shutdown ends.

November 13, 1995

The government shuts down for five days, from November 13 to November 19, because President Bill Clinton vetoes a continuing resolution from a Republican-controlled Congress. The shutdown ends when Clinton agrees to a seven-year deadline to balance the budget and 75 percent funding for the next four weeks.

December 5, 1995

The government shuts down for 21 days, beginning on December 5, 1995 and ending on January 6, 1996. The shutdown occurs when the Republicans ask Clinton to propose his seven-year timetable budget with Congressional Budget Office numbers instead of his Office of Management and Budget numbers. Clinton refuses and eventually passes a compromise budget with Congress. The estimated total cost of the two 1995 shutdowns (26 days total) is more than $1.4 billion. (Adjusted for inflation, that's $2.1 billion in 2013.)

October 1, 2013

On October 1, 2013, Congress fails to agree on a budget and pass a spending bill, causing the government to shut down. The failure to pass a bill is largely due to a standoff over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Already feeling pressure from the partial shutdown, Congress begins tense negotiations in an effort to pass a budget by the debt ceiling deadline on October 17, 2013. On October 16, 2013, the night before the debt ceiling deadline, both the House and Senate approve a bill to fund the government until January 15, 2014, and raise the debt limit through February 7, 2014. The last minute bill avoids a default and ends a 16-day government shutdown. It also ends the Republican standoff with President Obama over the Affordable Care Act. The partial shutdown takes $24 billion dollars out of the U.S. economy.

January 19, 2018 On January 19, 2018, Congress reaches a standstill over immigration that spills into federal budget negotiations. Congressional Democrats insist on addressing the matter of funding for DACA in the budget, while Republicans counter that the deadline on immigration isn't until March. The shutdown lasts for three days, during which more than half a million government employees are furloughed. Though budget disputes continue for some time, Congress agrees to a short-term funding bill to reopen the government.
December 22, 2018 Toward the tail end of 2018, Congress approves small-scale appropriations bills to fund most of the government. President Donald Trump, facing pressure to fulfill campaign promises, requests $5.7 billion in funding to begin work on his proposed border wall and says he is willing to shut down the government to secure the funding. Senate Democrats counter with a smaller $1.6 billion for a border fence in a specific area of the border. Despite early speculation that the President would concede, he claims that he won't approve any budget that doesn't contain his requested border wall funding. Following the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in the middle of the standoff, and several public meeting between Democratic leadership and the president end in failure. The shutdown continues for several weeks, becoming the longest in U.S. history on January 12, 2019. During the shutdown, nearly a million federal employees stop receiving pay, and either work for no compensation or are furloughed. The shutdown comes to a close on January 25 with a three-week measure, during which time Congress and the President hope to conclude discussions and avoid another shutdown after the three weeks pass.
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