Shutdown, Predux: 1995

Time is a funny thing.  It moves forwards, backwards, in circles.  Close your eyes, load the Delorean of your mind with Libyan plutonium, and travel with me back through history to visit one of the last times our government shut down.  Today, the Delorean stops in late 1995–  when the organs of our democratic body most recently failed.


1995: The last year Washington put on a show to remember.

Welcome!  Now that we’re here, let’s look around at the few remaining days of 1995.  Out there in the world, the Soviet Union has collapsed; apartheid has been legally repealed and electorally rejected; Hong Kong is still British.  The Bosnian War is almost over; Yitzhak Rabin was just assassinated.

You might have a computer in your house, but unless you’re some kind of superserious computery technophile, you probably don’t have the Internets yet.   Grunge was cool, but it’s kinda over.  People read “Doonesbury,” in print newspapers that they pay for.  Maybe you’re watching a movie, like “Clueless.”  Or, “Showgirls.”  Should we turn on the TV?  There’s a new show called “Friends” that seems pretty good.

What are you up to these days?  Me, I’m just, you know, around.  I’m busy not owning a pager, and paying only the most notional of attentions to…

The 1995-1996 Government Shutdown

How did it happen?

Remember the Contract With America?  It’s short- you can read it here.  The midterm elections of 1994 brought a Republican majority to both the House and Senate, for the first time in 40 years.  The significance of this shift was branded in a way that, had Twitter existed at the time, surely would have been fodder for hashtaggery– this was the Republican Revolution.  Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, Bob Dole became Senate Majority Leader.  Bill Clinton was president.  It was a great time for middle-aged white guys.  Then, as now, revolutionaries came to national office on a crusade.

The importance of balancing the federal budget was an article of faith for the 1994 group.  One part of the Contract With America was a promise to take a zero-based budgeting approach to the federal budget process.  Zero-based budgeting “differs from traditional budgeting processes by examining all expenses for each new period, not just incremental expenditures in obvious areas,” and means that justification is needed for every expense, every year.    A balanced budget amendment was proposed, but like much of the legislation introduced as a result of the Contract With America, it passed in the House and failed in the Senate.  The Republican Revolution legislatively stalled at the end of fiscal year 1995.

Then what happened?

A continuing resolution  kept the government open from the end of September until November 13, 1995 to allow for budget negotiations. Those negotiations failed, and so the government shut down.

A few days later, after President Clinton agreed to the Republican condition that he balance the budget within the next 7 years.  A new continuing resolution kept the government open until December 15, 1995, which allowed for the two sides to negotiate over what, exactly, this balanced budget promise would mean.   But while they could agree on the goal of balancing the budget, they could not come together on how to reach that goal, and so the government shut down again.  This second shutdown lasted until January 6, 1996.

What else happened?

The whole let’s-threaten-to-not-raise-the-debt-ceiling thing?  Newt Gingrich is an O.G. when it comes to that move– according to this source, he did that in 1995.   Also, a few sources I read said that the November shutdown may have been set in motion in part as a result of Gingrich having felt personally snubbed by President Clinton while they travelled together for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral.  And, as we know, during the December phase of the shutdown, Bill Clinton treated himself to a blow job or two, which eventually maybe irked Gingrich more than the whole airplane snub.

Clinton Lewinsky during 1995 shutdown

What a lovely father-daughter picture. Oh, wait…

Interestingly, if I’m reading this correctly, Congress found a way to fund Veterans Affairs through the December-January part of the shutdown.  Hopefully, they find a way to do this again, since veterans might not receive monthly benefits as of November 1 if this shutdown is still…shutting down.

How did it stop happening?

Essentially, President Clinton agreed to a budget that cut both taxes and spending— specifically Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as “other domestic programs.”  A few minutes later, the 1996 presidential election got up and running.  One source I read pointed out that Dole had an interest in ending the shutdown so that he could go do other things, like run for president.

At the end of it all, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the Republicans paid a steep price for modest wins in reducing the federal budget.  Gingrich in particular came out looking…well, like this:


What can we learn from this?

That is a good question.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that the 1995 shutdown was about the budget in a way that this shutdown is not.  Gingrich, Dole, and Clinton were negotiating how much to spend on different programs, whereas in this shutdown, funding the government has been linked with legislative provisions that take aim at the Affordable Care Act.   Reid and Boehner have different budget totals that they would prefer, but previously agreed on a budget at $988 billion.   However, while there is more agreement this time on the budget amounts, it’s still a fight over the size and shape of the federal government.

You should tell me what you think in the comments.  Here are a few thoughts to get us started:

– Shutting down the government is a way to get at least some of what you want.  (This may or may not include ‘sexual relations with that woman.’)
– You have to give the opposition something it wants to end a shutdown.
– Do not snub Newt Gingrich.  If he is on a plane with you, please show him the utmost courtesy.
– Revolutionary politics make it hard to compromise.

Useful sources on the 1995 shutdown:

Servicey addendum:  See this article for an interesting discussion of the history and effects of continuing resolutions.  If you want even more information about continuing resolutions– or CRs– read this Congressional Research Service report.  Full disclosure– I have a brain crush on the entire Congressional Research Service.  If you ever resent paying your taxes, read a CRS report, and then marvel at how well-informed you feel.


2 thoughts on “Shutdown, Predux: 1995

  1. WhyWasteYourTImeYouKnowYou'reGonnaBeMine says:

    I would like to read a congressional research service report, as it sounds both delicious and nutritious, but unfortunately their website is currently shut down. Sad face emoticon.

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