Government shut downs. We’ve had several of them. In fact, since 1976 we’ve had 22 of them – all for different reasons, all over different issues, all have had the same affect; government employees not getting paid, services curtailed, anger and disgust.
In 1995 there were two shut downs, within days of each other – The two shutdowns of 1995 and 1995–96 were the result of conflicts between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress over funding for Medicare, education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget. The government shut down after Clinton vetoed the spending bill the Republican Party-controlled Congress sent him. Government workers were furloughed and non-essential services suspended during November 14–19, 1995 (for 5 days), and from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996 (for 21 full days), in total 26 days. The major players were President Clinton and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.
The first of the two shutdowns caused the furlough of about 800,000 workers, while the second caused about 284,000 workers to be furloughed.
The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix had a few words about it:
“Long before the spectacle of President Trump and Congress scrambling and failing to avert a government shutdown, an entrenched budgetary standoff between House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton ground government to a halt for a record four weeks. The vast federal workforce was furloughed from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996, the longest failure of basic governmental function in the history of the republic.
That breakdown came just a month after a five-day shutdown, and was further extended by a historic pair of winter storms that shut the government down again on the very day Washington’s civil servants were finally going back to work. In all, the winter of ’95-’96 was a frozen mess for federal functionality.
The government’s spending authority expired on Dec. 15, a Saturday, so the full brunt of the shutdown wasn’t felt until 280,000 workers stayed home on Monday. (The previous shutdown had idled about 800,000 workers, but Congress had funded several more departments in the meantime). As the political sniping continued up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, the parks were dark, offices locked and the pulse of government went into winter hibernation.
Then came the cruel climatic twist, just as the White House and Congress finally reached a deal. Clinton, Gingrich and then-Sen. Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) came to terms on Jan 6, 1996, a Saturday. The snow began falling that afternoon. By the time the Blizzard of ’96 (“the Furlough Storm”) and the Alberta clipper that followed it were over, two feet of snow had fallen on the Washington region, and federal workers were idled for another five days.
By then tempers were shredded. Therapists reported an uptick in crisis calls from clients, many of them idled civil servants. A man in Frederick, finding someone parked in the space he had shoveled, used a garden hose to entomb the offending car in ice. At Rocky’s Video in Rockville, a customer punched out a clerk for not having a copy of “The Brady Bunch” in stock.
Federal workers finally came gingerly back, walking between heaps of snow and confronting mountains of paperwork.
The State Department faced a backlog of 200,000 passport applications; Education Department staffers had more than 100,000 loans and grants to process, and Veterans Affairs workers needed to install 60,000 gravestones.
Everyone got busy. Not that they had been completely idle: Nine months later, Washington hospitals reported a spike in “furlough babies.”
As a reminder that these things happen and they have happened before, here is an ABC Radio News featuring on that shutdown from November 19, 1995.