Our government has had budget legislation on the books for quite some time now, but it didn't lead to a government shutdown until the Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" bumped "Shake, Shake, Shake" by KC and the Sunshine Band from the top of the billboard. Both CNN and Fox News mark the first government shutdown under (nobody's favorite) President Gerald Ford, when the U.S. government closed up shop for 10 days in October of 1976. Today, we're on shutdown number 21 (again CNN and Fox agree on matters of fact — call it a late Christmas miracle).
Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been in Washington for every single one of them, ever since he was elected as one of Iowa's U.S. representatives in 1974 (he switched to the Senate in 1980). Now, I hate to keep bringing this quote back from the dead, but I feel it's important. Grassley said back in the fall of 2017 he had once thought shutdowns were the right way to go — specifically the 1995 shutdowns under President Bill Clinton (whose second and final shutdown remains the longest on record at 21 days). But he said that was likely the tipping point for his stance on the subject, and he no longer supports the idea of a government shutdown.
"It costs money to shut down government, it costs money to open up government, it raises the interest rates while there's a period of uncertainty for the national debt and the bonds that we sell, and we shouldn't be talking about shutting down the government," Grassley said at the time.
In the same breath, he said President Trump hadn't yet learned that lesson. In fact, just a matter of months before Grassley said those words, Trump had tweeted, "Our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!"
Grammar error aside, if shutdowns fixed messes, we wouldn't be in the midst of Trump's third one. Now, for perspective, Democratic President Jimmy Carter saw the most days with a non-operating government. There were a total of 56 days over five shutdowns from 1977 to 1979. By contrast, Republican President Ronald Reagan actually had a higher number of shutdowns, but a lower total of actual days — 14 days over eight shutdowns. And, of course, you've got Clinton's aforementioned 21-day shutdown over the 1995/1996 New Year.
I'll go ahead and cite Fox here again in saying Trump's first official shutdown was for three days in January this year, followed by a total of nine hours in February (yes, I agree that's tiny, but it's on Fox's list nonetheless). In terms of the actual number of shutdowns, he's already two ahead of Presidents Obama and H.W. Bush, and he's one shutdown ahead of Clinton. However, in terms of actual days under a shutdown, Trump's in pretty good shape…so far. As of Dec. 29, he's just a bit behind Ford's record. Both H.W. Bush and George W. Bush had fewer days — the father with a grand total of three and the son with a total of zero (that's right). So Trump's eight days (and counting) doesn't sound too bad, but he's not far from his predecessors. If this current shutdown continues into the New Year, he could pass President Ford and be within striking distance of both Reagan's 14 days and Obama's 16 days. Of course, Trump's only half-way through his first four years. Given our president's thoughts on the matter and the border wall funding spurring the situation, I doubt this will be the last shutdown during the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, those of us still working with the expectation of pay are left pondering how to keep this from happening again. Unfortunately, I don't foresee it working out in the near future. It's not because of any personal feelings I have about the current administration or the current Congress. It's simply the trend that's building. Take a look back at the numbers (you know, the ones CNN and Fox can agree upon). Government shutdowns really didn't come on the scene until 1976, after the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 had been put in place. Historical information on the House's website said Congress at that point was tired of President Nixon impounding appropriated funds, so they overhauled the system. Since that bill, every sitting president — save for W — has had at least one shutdown.
This isn't a conservative versus liberal thing, folks. I'm sure the very same budget issues and differences of opinion were thorns in the sides of presidents Washington through Nixon, it just didn't lead to a shutdown. This is a human thing. Until the day we all agree on every aspect of life (and remember CNN and Fox have found common ground, so maybe we can aim a little higher ourselves) there will be disagreements. Unfortunately, governmental disagreements on a national and global scale may, have and will cause shutdowns in our current model of government.
Everybody does it. In fact, it seems both predictable yet unavoidable — a bit like cold and flu season. Of the 21 recorded shutdowns since 1976, not a one of them has taken place between March and August. The majority of them were between September and October. It's happened for both Democrats and Republicans. It's happened during united and divided Congresses. It's happened when Congress was and was not of the same party as the White House. So it's not that we can blame one party or another. It's simply become a budgetary tool in either hand. Carter racked up the shutdowns because of arguments over Medicaid-funded abortions. Trump is lifting the needle now because of arguments over border wall funding (which, Mexico will somehow pay for, don't forget that).
It's the same game it's always been.
So let's not pretend this is anyone's fault but our own. Capitol Hill is divided because we are divided. Some of us want a wall, some of us don't and most of us feel pretty strongly about it. We're just not always happy with the consequences of electing those who rigorously uphold our values to the point of a shutdown.