Policy Feature Issue: History of Lapses in Federal Funding

Oct 09, 2013 | Policy •

Between 1976 and 2012, there were 17 lapses in Federal funding, a number of which resulted in full or partial government shutdowns.[1]  Despite the rhetoric coming from the Administration, these lapses were initiated by both parties, often as a result of policy disputes.  Archived news articles on the various funding gaps suggest one consistent theme: the House, the Senate, and the President engaged in negotiations to work through their differences.

Facts You Need to Know:

  • Seven of the lapses in appropriations occurred when the White House and the Senate were controlled by one party and the House was controlled by another.
  • Democrats held the majority party in the House for 88% of the funding gaps.
  • Five of thefunding gaps occurred when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.
  • Although a Federal funding gap has not occurred in more than a decade, they were not rare during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.  Each of these decades saw as many as six, eight, and three lapses, respectively.
  • The longest lapse in Federal funding continued for 21 days in 1995-96.

Appropriations Funding Gaps Since FY1977[2]:

Fiscal Year

Final Date of Budget Authoritya

Full Day(s) of Gapsb

Date Gap Terminatedc

1977

Thursday, 09/30/76

10

Monday, 10/11/76

1978

Friday, 09/30/77

12

Thursday, 10/13/77
Monday, 10/31/77

8

Wednesday, 11/09/77
Wednesday, 11/30/77

8

Friday, 12/09/77

1979

Saturday, 09/30/78

17

Wednesday, 10/18/78

1980

Sunday, 09/30/79

11

Friday, 10/12/79

1982

Friday, 11/20/81

2

Monday, 11/23/81

1983

Thursday, 09/30/82

1

Saturday, 10/02/82
Friday, 12/17/82

3

Tuesday, 12/21/82

1984

Thursday, 11/10/83

3

Monday, 11/14/83

1985

Sunday, 09/30/84

2

Wednesday, 10/03/84
Wednesday, 10/03/84

1

Friday, 10/05/84

1987

Thursday, 10/16/86

1

Saturday, 10/18/86

1988

Friday, 12/18/87

1

Sunday, 12/20/87

1991

Friday, 10/05/90

3

Tuesday, 10/09/90

1996

Monday, 11/13/95

5

Sunday, 11/19/95
Friday, 12/15/95

21

Saturday, 01/06/96

2014

Monday, 09/30/13

To be determined

To be determined

 

Policy Disputes Surrounding Lapses in Appropriations[3]:

  • FY1977 – 10 day lapse
    • President: Gerald Ford (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: President Ford vetoed the Department of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) appropriations bill because it “failed to restrain spending adequately.”[4]
    • Resolution: Funding for Labor and HEW was restored when Congress overrode Ford’s veto of the measure.  A continuing resolution (CR) was enacted ten days later to end other gaps in government funding.[5]
  • FY1978 – 12 day lapse
    • President: Jimmy Carter (D)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: The House wanted to preserve a prohibition on the use of Medicaid funding for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother was in danger.  The Senate wanted to expand the exception to also include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.  The issue was connected to appropriations measures for the Department of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), resulting in a partial shutdown.[6]
    • Resolution: A temporary CR was enacted to provide more time for the sides to negotiate.[7]
  • FY1978 – 8 day lapse
    • President: Jimmy Carter (D)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: The debate between the House and Senate regarding a prohibition on the use of Medicaid funding for abortions was not resolved when the temporary funding agreement ended.[8]
    • Resolution: Another temporary measure was enacted, providing more time for the House and Senate to debate the issue.[9]
  • FY1978 – 8 day lapse
    • President: Jimmy Carter (D)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: The debate between the House and Senate regarding a prohibition on the use of Medicaid funding for abortions still was not resolved when the second temporary funding agreement ended.[10]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored after the House and Senate agreed to expand the exception, thus allowing the use of Medicaid funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother was in danger.[11]
  • FY1979 – 17 day lapse[12]
    • President: Jimmy Carter (D)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: President Carter vetoed a defense appropriations bill that included funding for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as he “judged [the] carrier wasteful.”  In addition, he “vetoed a public works appropriations bill because of water projects that he considered wasteful pork.”  The HEW funding bill also was delayed again, due to a dispute over abortion funding.[13]
    • Resolution: A new defense bill was enacted that did not contain funding for the aircraft carrier.  A new public works bill was enacted that did not contain funding for the water projects.  The agreement reached the previous year on abortion funding was again accepted by both houses.[14]
  • FY1980 – 11 day lapse
    • President: Jimmy Carter (D)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: The Senate opposed a House proposal to increase congressional and senior civil servant pay.  The Senate also opposed a House proposal to restrict federal abortion funding only to situations in which the life of the mother was in danger.[15]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when the houses agreed to a CR that increased congressional and senior civil servant pay and prohibited abortion funding, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother was in danger.[16]
  • FY1982 – 2 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: President Reagan “promised to veto any spending bill that didn’t include at least half of his proposed $8.4 billion in domestic budget cuts.”  Reagan vetoed the bill passed by the House and Senate, as it “fell $2 billion short of the cuts Reagan wanted.”[17]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when Congress and the President agreed on a short-term CR to provide additional time for negotiations.[18]
  • FY1983 – 1 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: The House and Senate failed to pass appropriations bills, and then reportedly allowed a lapse in funding in order to permit Senators and Congressmen to attend social functions in DC.[19]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when Congress passed and the President signed funding bills.[20]
  • FY1983 – 3 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: CRs proposed by the House and Senate contained varying amounts of funding for “jobs programs,” and President Reagan threatened to veto any measure that contained jobs funding.  The House also opposed funding for the MX missile program, which the President supported.[21]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when a measure was enacted that omitted funding for jobs programs, but funded several items that the President opposed.  The measure also omitted funding for the MX missile.[22]
  • FY1984 – 3 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: The Senate opposed a House amendment to a CR that added almost $1 billion in education and welfare spending.[23]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when Congress and the President agreed on a spending measure that added only a tenth of the requested $1 billion in domestic spending.[24]
  • FY1985 – 2 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: The Democratic House linked a crime-fighting bill and a “water projects package” to the funding measure.  The President supported the former but opposed the latter.  In addition, the Senate tried to attach a civil rights measure to the bill that the President opposed.  The parties did not reach an agreement in time to prevent a lapse in funding.[25]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when a three-day CR was enacted to provide additional time for negotiations.[26]
  • FY1985 – 1 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: The three-day CR expired without a long-term resolution.[27]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when additional stopgap CRs were enacted, followed by a longer-term measure that stripped water projects and a civil rights measure opposed by the President and included a crime package favored by the President.[28]  In addition, a compromise was reached to allow continued funding for the Nicaraguan Contras.[29]
  • FY1987 – 1 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: “The brief shutdown followed several disagreements between Reagan and the Democrat-controlled House, including over a provision to ban companies from creating subsidiaries to get around labor contracts, another requiring that half the goods and labor used in offshore oil rigs be American in origin, and one that would have expanded Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which is what welfare was known as at the time.  All of those were policies supported by House Democrats and opposed by Reagan and Senate Republicans.  The dispute wasn’t resolved in time to avoid a shutdown.”[30]
    • Resolution: House Democrats conceded on a number of issues and received “a promise for a vote on their welfare expansion, and in return passed appropriations necessary to reopen the government.  Republicans, meanwhile, offered a concession related to the government’s sale of Conrail, a then-public railway.”[31]
  • FY1988 – 1 day lapse
    • President: Ronald Reagan (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: The House and Senate wanted to reinstate the “Fairness Doctrine,” a regulation that forced broadcasters to air both sides of any controversial public issue.  Congress and the President also disagreed about funding to aid the Nicaraguan Contras.[32]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when Congress and the President agreed to provide nonlethal aid to the Contras and agreed not to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.[33]
  • FY1991 – 3 day lapse
    • President: George H.W. Bush (R)
    • Congress: Democratic House, Democratic Senate
    • Cause: President Bush vetoed a CR after pledging not “to sign any [CR] into law unless it was paired with a deficit reduction plan.”[34]
    • Resolution: Congress “adopted a joint budget resolution that provided an outline for reducing the deficit,” which prompted the President to sign the CR into law to restore funding.[35]
  • FY1996 – 5 day lapse
    • President: Bill Clinton (D)
    • Congress: Republican House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: [O]nly three out of the 13 regular appropriations acts had been signed into law and budget authority, which had been provided by a CR since the start of the fiscal year, expired at the end of the day on November 13.  On this same day, President Clinton vetoed a CR that would have extended budget authority through December 1, 1995, because of the Medicare premium increases contained within the measure.”[36]
    • Resolution: “[A] deal was reached to end the shutdown and extend funding via two CRs through December 15.  Agencies that had been zeroed out in pending appropriations bills were funded at a rate of 75% of FY1995 budget authority.  All other agencies were funded at the lower of the House- or Senate-passed level of funding contained in the FY1996 full-year appropriations bills.  The CR also contained an agreement between President Clinton and Congress regarding future negotiations to lower the budget deficit within seven years.”[37]
  • FY1996 – 21 day lapse
    • President: Bill Clinton (D)
    • Congress: Republican House, Republican Senate
    • Cause: Congress “demanded that the White House propose a seven-year budget plan that balanced when using the CBO’s economic forecasts, rather than the OMB’s, which were more optimistic.”  However, President Clinton proposed a plan that resulted in a deficit according to CBO forecasts.  The earlier CR expired before the dispute was resolved.[38]
    • Resolution: Funding was restored when Congress passed a series of CRs.  “Clinton, in turn, submitted a budget plan that the CBO said balanced the budget within seven years.”[39]

Additional Information:



[1] CRS: Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview (Oct. 2, 2013) at 3.

[2] Id. at 3 (Table I).

[3] “The enactment of a CR on the day after the budget authority in the previous CR expired, which has occurred often, is not counted as involving a funding gap.” Id. at 2.  Each funding gap is measured by the number of full days it spanned.  “Full days are counted as beginning after the final day on which budget authority was available, and ending the day before the gap terminated.”  Id. at 3.

[5] Id.  See also “Veto of Labor-HEW Funds Bill Overridden,” CQ Almanac 1976, 32nd ed., 790-804. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1977.

[7] Id.  See also Washington Post: Payroll Crisis Is Staved Off At HEW, Labor (Oct. 14, 1977).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.  See also National Journal, Congress votes new abortion curbs (Dec. 17, 1977) at 1976.

[14] Id.

[16] Id.  See also “Pay, Abortion Issues Delay Hill Funding Bills,” CQ Almanac 1979, 35th ed., 269-71. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1980.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.  See also Congress Crams Bills Through in Rush to Quit, Congressional Quarterly (Oct. 2, 1982) at 2415.

[22] Id.  See also Funding Bill Action Pressed to Avert Agency Shutdown, Congressional Quarterly (Dec. 18, 1982) at 3040.

[23] Washington Post, Here is every previous government shutdown, why they happened and how they endedSee also Congress Struggles to Clear 2nd Stopgap Spending Bill, Congressional Quarterly (Nov. 12, 1983) at 2347.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.  See also “Last-Minute Money Bill Was Largest Ever,” CQ Almanac 1984, 40th ed., 444-47. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1985.

[28] “Last-Minute Money Bill Was Largest Ever,” CQ Almanac 1984, 40th ed., 444-47.

[29] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.  See also “$603.9 Billion Omnibus Funding Bill Clears,” CQ Almanac 1987, 43rd ed., 480-88. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1988.

[37] Id.

[38] Dylan Matthews, Washington Post, Here is every previous government shutdown, why they happened and how they ended (Sep. 25, 2013).

[39] Id.