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In 2013, a very different—yet somewhat similar—government shutdown

The U.S. Capitol, photographed on Jan. 5, 2018. (MGN/ LWYang / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

In the fall of 2013, Donald Trump applauded Republicans for linking keeping the government open to defunding Obamacare, while Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was declaring a hypothetical Democrat-led shutdown over immigration reform “chaos.”

At the time, the Republican House majority was in a standoff with a Democratic president and Democratic Senate over passage of a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government. House conservatives were insistent that any funding bill include provisions that would undermine the Affordable Care Act, with Senate Democrats repeatedly stripping those provisions out and sending the resolutions back.

“Congratulations to @SpeakerBoehner on standing strong and tying government shutdown to defunding ObamaCare,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 20, 2013.

On ABC’s “This Week,” meanwhile, Schumer accused Republicans of holding a gun to Democrats’ heads and insisted his party would not do the same.

“We believe strongly in immigration reform,” he said. “We could say, 'we're shutting down the government, we're not going to raise the debt ceiling, until you pass immigration reform.' It would be governmental chaos.”

In 2018, with now-President Trump and the GOP majority trying to advance a continuing resolution to fund the government and the Democratic minority demanding it be tied to a fix for young immigrants protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the script has clearly flipped.

The 2013 shutdown was prompted by hardline opposition to the ACA by lawmakers who rode into Congress with the tea party movement in 2010 and 2012. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led the charge, at one point holding the Senate floor for 21 hours to protest the funding of the health care law.

With House Republicans unwilling to pass a clean continuing resolution that did not address the unrelated Obamacare issue, the government shut down on Oct. 1, 2013.

That shutdown lasted 16 days, and it ended with Republicans getting very little of what they wanted and government funding being extended into December. In that short time, though, it had a significant impact.

Nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, though Congress later approved retroactive pay for them. The National Park Service lost 700,000 daily visitors, and financial experts estimated the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion.

Republicans say Democrats are now engaging in what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., described as “legislative arson” in 2013.

“How is that not exactly what is happening today?” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney asked at a White House news conference Friday.

Democrats maintain there are key differences, including widespread public support for protecting DACA recipients, the president publicly claiming he wants to help the so-called Dreamers and would sign any deal brought to him, and a proposed immigration compromise that they believe could get a majority if leadership allowed a vote.

The political consequences of a shutdown are hard to predict, as each side is confident the other side will get the blame. In the immediate aftermath of the 2013 shutdown, it appeared the tea partiers had overreached and there was talk of Democratic gains in the midterms as a result.

Prior to the shutdown, polls showed more Americans would hold Republicans responsible than Democrats. During the shutdown, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found 47 percent of voters wanted Democrats to control Congress versus 39 percent who preferred Republicans.

Within months, however, that Democratic edge eroded. According to journalist John Judis, the main thing that changed in that interval was the botched rollout of Obamacare and Healthcare.gov.

“The administration subsequently repaired the program, but the political damage was lasting,” he wrote in the New Republic. “It occurred at just that time when the issues of the coming election were being defined. Obama’s and the Democrats’ popularity never recovered.”

Judis also noted that the internal backlash against the tea party enabled the GOP to field better, more centrist candidates in 2014.

Just over a year after the shutdown, Republicans regained control of the Senate, picked up over a dozen seats in the House, and won several key governorships. With polls again showing the public would place more blame on the GOP if the government shuts down now, it may not be clear until November if this one will prove to be more damaging.


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