What Is a Government Shutdown?


Quick Answer

A government shutdown is a situation in which the legislative branch of the United States government fails to adequately account for funding intended for federal agencies and other operational entities. As a result, the executive branch is compelled to shut down operations until the legislative impasse is overcome.

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Full Answer

As part of its job, the legislative branch is responsible for designing the budgets for federal agencies and organizations and passing legislation to deliver the specified funds. This legislation is typically called an appropriations bill. However, if this legislation is not passed by the requisite date, affected agencies within the government are susceptible to what is known as a funding gap. Subsequently, at the behest of the Constitution and Antideficiency Act, the executive branch must initiate a shutdown process affecting those federal entities exposed to the funding gap. If the process lasts long enough for the shutdown to be completed, agency workers are furloughed and the performance of their duties arrested.

Shutdowns have happened several times in American history. Six partial shutdowns occurred in the Ford and Carter administrations alone. The Clinton administration experienced two separate shutdowns, the second lasting several weeks. In 2013, the United States government was shutdown for a total of 16 days, largely due to the Republican Party's attempt to forestall the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. During the crisis, around 800,000 public sector workers were sent home, museums, galleries and national parks shut down, and garbage collection in the District of Columbia suspended.

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