In U.S. politics, a government shutdown is a situation in which Congress fails to pass authorization for sufficient funds for government operations. Typically, the government stops providing all but "essential" services at first, but since Congress must authorize all expenditures, there is no law protecting any government service from stoppage. Federal services that may continue for a time after a shutdown include the National Weather Service and its parent agencies, medical services at federal facilities, armed forces, air traffic management, and corrections (the penal system).
During the Ford and Carter administrations, there were 6 partial government shutdowns that affected only the departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare. These partial shutdowns lasted from 8 to 18 days and the primary issue of dispute was federal funding for abortion. During the Reagan administration, there were 8 full government shutdowns that lasted only 1 to 3 days apiece, primarily over the issue of the United States budget deficit. There was a similar 4-day shutdown during the first Bush administration.
During the Clinton administration, after conservatives made massive congressional gains in the 1994 Republican Revolution, there were two full government shutdowns lasting 5 and 21 days apiece, the second of which was by far the longest of its kind to that date. The primary issue was again the United States budget deficit.
The United States federal government shutdown of 2013 is ongoing, having begun on 1 October 2013. The primary issue of dispute between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate (the latter supported by President Obama) is the Republicans' desire to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Mechanism of a shutdown
Under the separation of powers created by the United States Constitution, both the Senate and House of Representatives must approve an agreed budget, which then goes to the President of the United States for signature. If the President vetoes the budget, it goes back to Congress, where the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote. Government shutdowns tend to occur when the President and one or both of the chambers of Congress are unable to resolve disagreements over budget allocations before the existing budget cycle ends.
Shutdowns of the type experienced by the United States are nearly impossible in other democracies. Under the parliamentary system used in most European nations, the executive and legislative branch are not separate, with the parliament designating all executive officials, typically called "ministers". In non-parliamentary democracies, a strong executive branch typically has the authority to keep the government functioning even without an approved budget. This was the case in the United States up until 1980, when the administration of Jimmy Carter interpreted the 1884 Antideficiency Act to limit the power of federal agencies in the lack of congressional approval.
Letter from President Obama to US Government employees affected by the shutdown in 2013
A federal government shutdown causes a large number of civilian federal employees to be furloughed. Military personnel and essential employees are not furloughed, but may not be paid as scheduled.
The exact details of which government functions would stop during a shutdown is determined by the Office of Management and Budget. However, some specific aspects have applied to all shutdowns in the past. Among these is the closure of national parks and passport offices. "Emergency personnel" continue to be employed, including the military, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and nurses working in federal hospitals, and air traffic controllers. Members of Congress continue to be paid, because their pay cannot be altered except by direct law. Mail delivery is not affected as it is self-funded.
Shutdowns in the past have also affected the Washington, D.C., municipal government, putting a stop to schools and to utilities such as garbage collection.