The Government Shutdown of 1995-96

Federal workers protest the government shutdown on January 5,1996 | Courtesy of CNN
Federal workers protest the government shutdown on January 5,1996 | Courtesy of CNN

The night of November 14, 1995 was supposed to be a victory for the Republican-controlled Congress. After passing a budget that would fund the government and decrease government spending, the Republicans felt confident that they averted a shutdown. However, that was not the case. By the time the budget made its way to the desk of Democratic president Bill Clinton, Clinton refused to sign the bill to fund the government. By refusing to sign the budget, parts of the government shut down. This led to protests by government employees, since they were not given their paychecks from the government.

Daily News article, released November 1995, calling Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich a baby | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Clinton wanted to increase funds for Medicare, Medicaid, education, and preserving the environment.1 The Republicans, though, wanted the opposite. By refusing to increase funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and preserving the environment, Clinton vetoed the budget and held negotiations to reach a compromise. However, Clinton had an issue with one of the Republican leaders he was meeting with, House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Before the shutdown, Clinton and Gingrich attended the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel. During the flight, Gingrich was told to sit at the back of the plane. It was perceived by others that Gingrich tried to use the shutdown as a form of vengeance against President Clinton. Although Gingrich felt angry at Clinton for the event on the flight, it did not affect the ongoing negotiations. After holding talks with Congress for five days, Congress passed a continuing resolution, which kept the government funded until December. Clinton signed the resolution on November 19, 1995, ending the five-day shutdown. After the resolution was signed, Congress was in a race against time to prevent another shutdown. Gingrich, however, thought to use this time to bash the President. During this period, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich voiced his disagreements with President Clinton on the budget. By doing this, Gingrich made a tactical mistake by appearing too eager to shut down the government again.2 On December 16, 1995, Congress wanted to pass a second continuing resolution to give themselves more time to put the budget together. Clinton soon vetoed the resolution, thus sending the government into another shutdown. Both Congress and President Clinton found themselves back at the drawing board again.

President Clinton meeting with members of Congress to discuss government budget on December 29, 1995 | Courtesy of The Pew Research Center

President Clinton and Congress met on December 29, 1995, to compromise on a budget. During this time, the country was getting ready for the presidential elections. Republicans sought to use this shutdown as a weapon against Clinton’s failed policies. The negotiations continued until January 1996. On January 5, 1996, protests had erupted outside the Capitol. Government workers were demanding the end of the government shutdown, so they could get paid. Republicans held a press conference about the negotiations. They argued that they were trying to reduce government spending on federal programs, whereas Clinton wanted to increase spending for those programs. In some sense, Republicans thought that the amount of federal spending was one of the bones they had to pick with Clinton.3 By January 6, 1996, a compromise was met and President Clinton agreed to sign the budget bill, thus ending the twenty-one-day shutdown.

Senator Pete Domenici explains the comparison between the Clinton and GOP budget on January 1996 | Courtesy of CNN

Although the shutdown was over, there were some benefits for both political parties. The Democrats and the Republicans made some gains after the 1996 presidential election. Democrats gained a few seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans, on the other hand, gained two seats in the Senate and kept control of Congress. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, however, had his political reputation damaged because of the disagreements with President Clinton over the budget. President Clinton’s job approval ratings were generally above the 50% mark after the shutdown in 1996 and he cruised to a re-election victory over his Republican opponent, Senator Bob Dole, in the fall of that year.4

  1. David J. Maraniss, The First Term. In Presidents: A Reference History (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002), 626.
  2.  Kessler Glenn, “The Fact Checker: Lessons from the government shutdown of 1995-96,” The Washington Post no.1 (February 2011): 1.
  3. George F. Will, “Republicans as Red Sox: The 1995 government shutdown reduced the importance of GOP control of Congress,” Newsweek no. 1 (October 1998): 92.
  4. Frank Newport, “More in U.S. Say Shutdown Is About Politics Than Principle,” Gallup Poll Briefing no. 1 (2013): 1.

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This Post Has 58 Comments

  1. Carlos Sandoval

    I found this article to be very entertaining because at times I find myself thinking about what would happen if the government shut down. All through high school I never got the chance to learn about this but I wished I would have. This was a very well written and informative article, there was a lot of hardworking put into it.

  2. Anais Del Rio

    One of the pictures in the article helped make the article intriguing and even suggested that the government shutdown was caused by such a silly interaction. Though it was interesting to read the effects of the event such as people protesting and trying to negotiate a solution between the two political parties. Thankfully government shutdowns are a rare occurrence since it would affect government resources and the people more than one would expect.

  3. Gloria Baca

    Interesting article and very well written. I always find it fascinating to read about the governments shut down and upon reading this article, it just proved my point once again. Reading how differences could cause a government shut down back in the day and limit its full potential, just proves how there could still be one today. What makes it even more intriguing is to see that the arguments that Republicans and Democrats had back then, are still happening today. Overall I found this article to be very informative and well structured.

  4. Timothy ODekirk

    For the past three years or so, I have been involved with ;politics and have found politics and the history of it, quite interesting. I was unaware of this government shutdown in 1995-1996. It is interesting how this shutdown of 1996 helped President Bill Clinton win the reelection in 1996 against Bob Dole. In addition, it is interesting how Clinton’s job approval ratings went up sky high after the government shutdown. Overall, this was an extremely interesting article that has allowed me to learn more about the history in the United States politics.

  5. Rolando Mata

    For being a very detail oriented article I found this writing to be quite engaging and kept me locked throughout. I had never fathomed the idea that a shutdown could have potentially stemmed from such a small and kinda funny event. great article overall. paid representatives can make things very personal and this well-written article is what allowed me to understand that in a very important context

  6. Miguel Camarillo-Cohen

    The article on the Government Shutdown of 1995-1996 can be instrumental to those wanting to negotiate on the federal budget this year. President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich. While Clinton wanted to fund education, Medicare, Medicaid, and the preservation of the environment, the republicans wanted to cut resources to those line items important to the democrats. The shutdown and fighting resulted in Clinton winning the November general election of 1996 and Gingrich lost power and influence. Seats were lost and won by both political sides.This election year, the stakes are many including the passage of DACA, gun control, and stopping future wars. Can the GOP survive the outcry by millions? History can serve way to determine how the nation goes forward. Only time will tell how each party handles the outcry by those that want change and are concerned with that is now referred to as the “Trump effort.”

  7. Suvesh Vasal

    The thought of the government shutting down has always entertained me. This article was very well written and the details gave me the information to learn what actually happened. I am surprised that the government officials we pay handsomely, allow issues between each other to stop the government from working to its maximum capability. Very interesting article.

  8. Natalia Flores

    The article is very well written and detail oriented. It’s quite interesting to see the disagreement between Newt Gingrich and Clinton was so out in the open. I had no idea that there was a possibility that Gingrich was holding a grudge towards Clinton for making him sit at the back of the plane. The disagreement over spending between the Republican and Democratic is still going on to this day and to see it happening even back then is a bit disheartening.

  9. Thomas Fraire

    Fascinating article! At the point when Government close down happens it impacts everybody so its imperative to gain from past shutdowns so we can anticipate future ones. I however it was intriguing how even today we confront similar issues that we backed than, and toward the day’s end regardless it brings about an administration shutdown. On the off chance that I needed to nitpicks I would state that you could have made the outrageous circumstance of an administration shutdown more common. General this was an extremely fascinating subject and a decent article.

  10. Kayla Lopez

    I remember learning about this topic a lot in my prior history classes so this was a great article to refresh my memory about the government shut down. I find it sad how the Republicans did not want to increase the funds for Medicaid and other similar programs that are and were much needed. The featured pictures were clever and the article itself was well written.

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