A closed Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. The government shutdown lasted 35 days.

A closed Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. The government shutdown lasted 35 days. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

5 longest government shutdowns in U.S. history

Budget disputes have practically made shutdown threats a fall tradition on Capitol Hill, but these impasses left lasting impressions on the history of the federal government.

With Congress teetering on the edge of yet another federal government shutdown, it’s anyone’s guess how long this budget stalemate may last.

Over nearly 50 years, Congress’ fiscal disputes have ranged from near misses, such as 2015’s Boehner sacrifice — where then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Mo, resigned to ensure the passage of a stopgap bill and outmaneuver a faction of House Republicans threatening to oust him — to the 35-day partial government shutdown during the Trump administration.

The shutdowns we’ve come to know today are defined by the 1980 Civiletti opinions, when then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti penned an interpretation of the Antideficiency Act that effectively crafted the rules of closing the federal government when appropriations lapse.

However, these fiscal gridlocks have deep history within the federal government, whether they resulted in federal agencies’ closure or not. Here’s a look at the five longest government shutdowns in U.S. history.

The 2018-2019 shutdown

Duration: 35 days

Cause: Though Congress has approved appropriations for some of the federal government, nine executive departments and several agencies stopped work on Dec. 22, 2018, after then-President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t sign a continuing resolution without $5.7 billion in federal funds to support construction of his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

Resolution: Five weeks into the dispute, Trump agreed to a three-week CR without additional funding for the border wall. Trump would later sign a fiscal 2019 budget that reportedly included $1.375 billion for steel fencing on a portion of the border.     

The 1995-1996 shutdown 

Duration: 21 days 

Cause: Preceded by a seven-day shutdown in November 1995, the three-week gridlock was a continuation of the dispute between then-President Bill Clinton and House members led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., over how to balance the federal budget and which spending estimates to use.

Resolution: Congress reached a compromised budget with the White House after negotiations to reopen the government in January.

The 1978 shutdown

Duration: 17 days

Cause: According to the Congressional Research Service, prior to the Civiletti opinions, the federal government continued to operate without full appropriation, though it “tended to curtail some operations in response to the funding gap.” In 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter vetoed certain appropriations bills funding a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and other public works projects, according to Time magazine.

Resolution: Both provisions were later removed from the spending bills.

The 2013 shutdown

Duration: 16 days 

Cause: The shutdown took effect over proposed delays and defunding of the Affordable Care Act in the GOP-led House-sponsored CRs, which were opposed by the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House. 

Resolution: House members ultimately passed a Senate-negotiated CR to fund the government through Jan. 15 without delaying or defunding the ACA.

The first 1977 shutdown 

Duration: 12 days

Cause: The first of three separate shutdowns to occur in 1977, the dispute centered on a disagreement between the House and Senate over abortion rules tied to Medicaid funding. 

Resolution: Both chambers agreed to fund the government while negotiations continued, but subsequent appropriations lapses occurred again for eight days in November and another eight days in December before a deal was finally reached, according to NBC News.