On Saturday, the government shutdown reached day 22 and became the longest government shutdown in US history.
Since the 1970s, government shutdowns have been a way of life in Washington, occurring every few years. The current intractable shutdown over the president’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall has been marked by repeated failed negotiations, and it’s increasingly hard to see where this could all end.
President Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of declaring a national emergency in order to circumvent normal budget processes and get the money for the wall. And in recent days, analysts have increasingly suggested that this may be the most plausible way to end the shutdown, which has forced 800,000 government employees to either stay home or work without pay.
Past shutdowns have always ended with negotiated deals. Using a declaration of emergency to end a government shutdown — regardless of whether it even worked at all — would be an unprecedented and authoritarian move that could open the door to a host of alarming future scenarios in which a president might use this power to shut down electronic communication or freeze bank accounts.
How Previous Shutdowns Have Ended
If the intractability of government shutdowns can be measured by their duration, then the next hardest one to solve before this one was the 21-day shutdown in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. That shutdown was over a host of disagreements – Republicans wanted spending and tax cuts and a balanced budget, and President Clinton wanted to defend programs like Medicare, Medicaid and education spending. After 21 days, Republicans moderated their demands for spending and tax cuts, and President Clinton proposed a new plan for a balanced budget.
The next longest shutdown in 1978, at 18 days long, was one of the earlier shutdowns of the modern era, when shutdowns became common following legislation that gave…