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Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Lessons from the great government shutdown of 1995-1996

By Washington Post Editors

New York Daily News cover from November 1995, during federal government shutdown

"There's a very good possibility that government will shut down. I know the Democrats have their talking points lined up. They'll blame us for everything. What will we do?"
--Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), Feb. 22, 2011

Glenn Kessler reports on the Fact Checker blog that with a March 4 deadline looming on extending a stopgap spending bill, both Republicans and Democrats are preparing for the possibility of a federal government shutdown. Interestingly, a new poll of political insiders reveals that Republicans overwhelmingly believe that a government shutdown is not in their interest. Democrats, by contrast, believe a government shutdown would benefit their party.

The reason? The great government shutdown of 1995-1996, in which a weakened President Bill Clinton faced off against determined Republicans, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- and won. Take a look at the classic New York Daily News cover from that period (above) as evidence of how the Republicans lost control of their message. The Republican Revolution died that day.

John Boehner, the current speaker, was the No. 4 Republican in the House leadership during Gingrich's heyday. By many accounts, the experience of living through that shutdown has deeply affected him. Assuming Boehner can maintain control of his caucus, that alone makes it less likely that a shutdown will happen this year.

Read the entire post on the Fact Checker blog.

By Washington Post Editors  | February 25, 2011; 11:09 AM ET
Categories:  Government Shutdown  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: What a government shutdown would look like
Next: Federal workers: Tell us your stories


I worked for the federal government during two shutdowns. In the agency where I worked, a number of "non-essential" employees were furloughed. What sounded ominous turned out to be a paid vacation. All furloughed workers got reimbursed all the back pay they lost during the furlough. I don't know if the rules have changed, but I suspect not.

Posted by: snowcountry | February 25, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Back pay is not guranteed when a government worker goes on furlough as part of a government shut down due to lack of a Funding Law or Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA).
While it is possible that we will get back pay, it will have to be written into any Funding Law or CRA that congress passes but it is unlikely considering that this shut down is based on fiscal factors.

Posted by: PerkinsCR | February 28, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Cross Posted from RS...

We stare into the abyss today — the abyss that comes when a political party’s spine is removed and we stare down into the cavity . . . longingly . . . waiting . . . dreaming of what might have been.

Friends, I write this hoping the events I predict will not happen, but I suspect the events will happen. You need to understand what is at play today in Washington. There are two competing forces.

The first force is that of the Democrats and their unstoppable desire for a government shutdown. You read that right. The Democrats, not the Republicans, are desperate for a government shutdown. Barack Obama needs a government shutdown.

Everyone in Washington is fixated on the Myth of 1995. In the Myth, nasty Republicans shut down Washington, DC, starving old people and children, denying passports to refugees from the crisis, and gunning down our soldiers in harm’s way because the government could not buy and ship bullets to respond. Yogi Bear also starved to death because no tourists with their picnic baskets could get into Jellystone.

In the Myth, Bill Clinton was transcendent and triumphant. He outmaneuvered the GOP, reopened the government, and cruised to re-election vanquishing the GOP. Don’t believe me? Just watch the West Wing episode cementing the Myth as fact.

In fact, I hear David Axelrod, Plouffe, and Jay Carney keep coming out of the White House bathroom red raced, sweaty, and slightly blind and the only thing left in the bathroom is a flatscreen running that episode over and over and some hand sanitizer.

It is the Myth.

John Boehner, who was in Newt Gingrich’s leadership team, remembers the Myth. He remembers how the failed GOP PR battle, Bob Dole’s betrayal, Gingrich’s ham fisted handling of the matter, etc. sabotaged the GOP. The GOP, being the stupid party, botched the PR campaign. So despite getting a balanced budget and welfare reform by forcing a shutdown and gaining seats in the Senate while holding their own in the House, John Boehner and the House GOP leadership have bought into the Myth.

We are now left with the unstoppable force of the White House and Democrats wanting a shutdown impacting the malleable object that is the Republicans’ spine desperate to contort its way into a spin that it cut spending and kept Washington open.

The impact here is going to be huge.

Posted by: cstrasburger | February 28, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I have never been in a Government shutdown, but the stories /articles I have read about the previous ones weren’t good at all to me. Some say it was considered a paid vacation for them, while many others say they where uncertain, aggravated, and afraid. The latter is what I thought was the real actuality of the whole thing.-- If there is a shutdown again than who knows if this congress will pay for being furloughed? It seems that this new congress got voted in (don’t know how) but came in stomping and throwing their weight around demanding this and that without a care for anyone else. Congress only care about themselves and the very "rich." I have not heard or seen anything positive nor beneficial for the people of this country. I am willing to do my part to help cut the deficit, but I am not taking the blame for it. This deficit crime has been placed on the backs of the Fed employees SOLELY which is wrong. Fed employees did not create this deficit. Congress has been spending for many decades and NEVER gave a thought to it. So now it has came back to bite them in the butt which lead to them needing a way to get their greedy hands on more money to mess up. Yeah I say mess up because all they know how to do is SPEND... SPEND... SPEND, keeping this country in debt, but place the BLAME on the Fed employees.-- Furthermore, Boehner and his crew opened a can of worms. You’d think he would have learned from the previous shutdown relating to his buddy Newt G. If it happens I believe it is going to be far worst than previous. Also, cutting the Fed employees by 10-15%, freezing pay for 2yrs or 5 yrs and changing Fed employees benefits is not the answer. It will only put more people out of work while congress cut employment. LOL! Although it is no laughing matter, but let’s be real here. Not one, not even one single of them have the answers to what to do, they are ALL scrambling around Washington like blind mice, while grasping for straws.-- On the flip side, factories closed, jobs moved overseas where labor is cheap to line the pockets of the rich. American jobs being outsourced to China, Indonesia, India and other countries. Other countries are getting rich with the American jobs while Americans are out of work left behind. We have to. many hungry people in this country, to many elder trying to decide if eating or paying for medication is more important, lose of education for the kids where only the rich can afford cause congress want to cut education from the poor kids.-- But we have congress and their families who are not affected by the lame decisions they make. After all congress gets FREE medical/dental, hefty retirement not after working for 20yrs either, flying around on taxpayer’s dollars for FREE doing JACK, getting hefty pay checks while the rest of the country is made to suffer at their greedy hands.

Posted by: donala44 | March 1, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Part 2

It is why nothing congress does will ever work because they are nothing more than mere men who think they are God who thinks they know how to run this country.

Last but not least, congress needs to realize that Fed employees are a vital part of this country and not some lazy shiftless lowdown bombs who are overpaid for doing nothing. Don't kid yourself that congress doesn't know how much we get paid. They even know the steps we have to get in order to get pay increases and they know that the cap is $155,000 yr rather you a Fed employee who put in 20 yrs or 30yrs, it does not matter is the same pay. Not every Fed employee makes this and congress knows this too. All this false information newspaper put out is nothing more than a ploy and an excuse for congress to target the Fed employees and cause American citizens to be mad at us. Do you think the creditors will take it easy on Fed employees who can't pay their mortgage and car payments? No they will not! This stupidity in Washington is putting everyone at risk except congress / rich. It is a crime and shames that food, healthcare and gas is steady going up, but Fed employees and their families are FORCED, literary FORCED to be the sacrificial scapegoats to pay the country debt and if you cannot afford to buy your family food, keep a roof over their heads then, “SO BE IT." Boehner oh so famous words.

Posted by: donala44 | March 1, 2011 4:19 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting to read all of the comments. But, the entire government was not shut down. There was an earlier shut down for 3 days in November of 1995. I worked at the IRS and we were shut down for 3 days. Then we were one of the Agencies that got a budget passed. We were not shut down during the 20 days, like many others. It would be interesting to see what happens if the IRS is shut down during filing season and people don't get, or their refund checks are delayed!!!

Posted by: Linda45 | March 1, 2011 5:10 PM | Report abuse

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