Politicians are quick to pass blame to the other party when congressional budget battles lead to stalemates that can’t be resolved in time to fund government agencies.
Government shutdowns are most often battles between parties, but under Democratic President Jimmy Carter, the Democrat-controlled Congress shut down the government five times in three years.
The Republican controlled Congress and President Donald Trump are working on a deal to fund the government through May 5, but the president’s ambitious defense spending increases and domestic reductions threaten to lead to another shutdown fight.
A so-called government shutdown occurs when the Congress fails to pass — or the president fails to sign — an appropriations bill for the government’s non-essential functions. This includes things like writing regulations and staffing national parks. Soldiers still get paid, social security checks still go out, and people still receive their food stamps during a government shutdown.
The government has shutdown 18 times since the modern congressional budget process started in 1976. Most of the time, the conflict grows out of split legislatures or when Congress and the White House are controlled by opposite party.
In recent political history, Republicans in Congress have overseen shutdowns over government funding. The nascent Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus forced a shutdown in October 2013 over funding Obamacare. Since then, a series of negotiations and continuing resolutions have kept the government open continuously, despite a few close calls.
Democrats are no strangers to forcing shutdown battles either.
The first three gaps in government funding under Carter occurred because Congress couldn’t agree on Medicaid funding for abortions, according to the Washington Post. The House insisted that the government should fund abortions only cases of rape, incest, or when carrying the child to term would risk the mother’s health. But the Democratic Senate wanted to expand Medicaid coverage to include more abortions.
The government shut down at the beginning of the fiscal quarter Oct. 1, 1977 over the Medicaid abortion funding dispute, and stayed closed for nearly two weeks. The legislature passed a short term bill Oct. 13 to fund the government through the end of October. That wasn’t enough time for Congress to reach an agreement, so the government shut down again Oct. 31. On Nov. 9, Congress passed another bill to fund government through the end of November, but that wasn’t enough time to reach a deal. The government shut down a third time.
The Congress finally reached a deal in December 1977 to allow Medicaid to fund abortions for rape, incest and danger to the mother’s health.
Less than a year later in October 1978, the Democratic Congress again failed to reach a funding agreement, this time because Congress included funding for a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, which Carter viewed as wasteful.
Carter vetoed the spending bill both chambers passed, as well as a public works bill that Carter said included wasteful pork. The government was shutdown for 18 days in October 1978 until Congress passed bills without funding for the aircraft carrier and without the water projects Carter didn’t like.
Carter’s administration failed to fund the government a fifth time in 1979. The House wanted to raise congressional and senior civil servant pay, and the Senate didn’t agree. The Medicaid abortion funding fight also came up again, with the House wanting to restrict
President Ronald Reagan holds the record for the most government shutdowns with eight separate funding gaps, but throughout his two terms the Congress, he was partially or completely controlled by Democrats.