Journalism in the Public Interest

Key Reads on Government Shutdowns

A roundup of interesting stories about government shutdowns.

The National Park service's Richard Trott places a sign barring visitors to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, October 1, 2013, because of the government shutdown. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

We’ve been here before: The U.S. government has shut down due to lack of funding 18 times in its history. Most of those shutdowns were short-lived, usually lasting only a few days or a little over a week. The longest shutdown was also the most recent – 21 days in the winter of 1995 and 1996. We’ve compiled some of the best writing about that shutdown and the current one.

Have another great story about government shutdowns? Email me at

Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work, Wonkblog, September 30, 2013

If you haven’t been following the story, Wonkblog will catch you up.

Rant, Listen, Exploit, Learn, Scare, Help, Manipulate, Lead, New York Times Magazine, January 28, 1996

In the wake of the 1996 shutdown, the New York Times Magazinedelved into the thinking of the man behind the move, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. 

Distance From Budget Crisis No Comfort to Illinois Town, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1996

Two Los Angeles Timesreporters trekked out to the small, conservative town of Sycamore, Ill. during the 1996 shutdown, where citizens fed up with politics were beginning to experience the effects of cuts in government services.

National Zoo reopens, but it's far from business as usual, Washington Post, January 7, 1996

If the government shuts down, who ships the elephant, rhino, hippo and giraffe manure out of the National Zoo? The Washington Post reported on the surprising and fascinating ways the 1996 shutdown hampered zoo operations.

Last Shutdown a Lesson Lost on Capitol Hill, New York Times, September 28, 2013

The last shutdown was actually quite different from the current one. For instance, in 1995, Congress had passed several appropriations bills, which funded parts of the government. Today, Congress hasn’t passed any.

The Odd Story of the Law That Dictates How Government Shutdowns Work, The Atlantic, September 28, 2013

No other government in the world shuts down the way the American government does, and it’s all because of an obscure law passed in the late 1800s. The Antideficiency Act was originally meant to prevent the president from entering into contracts before Congress approved the spending. Now it means that Congress can shut down the Executive Branch’s “non-essential” operations.

Australia had a government shutdown once. In the end, the queen fired everyone in Parliament, Wonkblog, October 1, 2013

In 1975, Australia’s parliament shut down the government during a budgetary battle. But over the course of one afternoon, Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative dissolved the whole Parliament. A month later, Australians elected a whole new government, and it has never had a shutdown since.

The ‘Jackasses’ are feeling the heat with their childish tantrum of chaining sites around DC. Can’t imagine what a degenerate is necessary to deny WWII veterans access to the monument.

But then all you have to do is take a look at Harry Reid and the Whitehouse ‘fraud’!

shirley gilford

Oct. 4, 2013, 8:41 p.m.

Republicans stand strong….do not give in to the tyrants!!!  It just shows how much we don’t need so many of these programs.  Obama and Reid are bullies.

So…a group of people with a well-documented, open hatred of the United States government have staged a situation to shut down said government.  With strange weather patterns, including a hurricane, they’ve closed down the National Weather Service; had said hurricane not fizzled, it could have been a disproportionate disaster.  With flu season coming, they’ve shut down the NIH and with it the flu shot program; a bad flu could turn into an epidemic and harm a wide variety of Americans.

In a world where informing citizens of the United States what our government is doing to us is considered potential treason and aiding the enemy, how is this not terrorism against our people?  Al-Qaeda would love to take credit for this, for sure.  Heck, don’t they have a statement where they claim to want to paralyze our government?

Further, so as not to dump entirely on the thirty or so idiots who think a tantrum is higher priority than governance, by what law are thirty people able to take the entire legislature hostage?  I’m not a statistician, admittedly, but thirty of 435 sounds a lot like a tiny minority.  None of these other geniuses can find a way to force a vote?

Lastly, I’m not even sure what the “shutdown thesis” actually is, especially with regards to ObamaCare.  I think the law is stupid, but it’s because we’re required to pay overinflated medical costs through a middle-man whose sole purpose is to inflate costs further.  However, the Tea Partiers don’t seem to worry about that, and that’s a pro-business stance it seems they’d like.  It can’t be that it’s socialized medicine, because…it’s not socialized medicine, it’s a universal mandate of the status quo.

I’m no fan of government bloat, myself, but I also need to point out that military personnel are all “essential,” whereas a lot of infrastructure is not, and I, for one, would like to opt out of a military-run government.  That tends to not end so well.

I agree 100% with John who commented on this site at 10:09am today.

Well said, John!

As for the other John (Boner), he needs to cave in.  Sure he will lose his leadership, but it is the right thing to do for the US and for the world economy.

China currently holds a lot of US debt. If we don’t make interest payments, it could affect China’s economy as well and poof! we are in a world-wide depression, if not World War III.

clarence swinney

Oct. 8, 2013, 12:08 p.m.

400 Billionaires
or one tenth of one percent own as much wealth as 154 million.
46 million luckie duckies get Food Stamps
50 million have no health insurance
60 million have zero or negative wealth
64% have less than $1000 in savings
When will we tax wealth instead of giving tax breaks to the rich?

clarence pest swinney

Oct. 11, 2013, 5:13 p.m.

An argument against it is that it singles them out for higher taxes
The excise tax is huge 2.3%. Health care reform will increase demand
for devices over all. Ir does not apply to devices made in USA and exported.
It does apply to imported devices. Therefore, it was designed to protect competitiveness
and job creation in USA—for a change.

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