NPR on history of gov’t shutdowns…blame it on Civiletti

 

NPR on history of gov’t shutdowns

Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion saying government work cannot go on until Congress agrees to pay for it.

 

AMY HILLIER
Associate Professor; Secondary faculty appointment in the School of Social Policy & Practice  City & Regional Planning ahillier@design.upenn.edu

That easygoing attitude changed during the last year of President Jimmy Carter’s administration. That’s when Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion saying government work cannot go on until Congress agrees to pay for it.  “They used an obscure statute to say that if any work continued in an agency where there wasn’t money, the employees were behaving like illegal volunteers,” says Tiefer. “So they not only could shut off the lights and leave, they were obliged to shut off the lights and leave.”  Civiletti later issued a second opinion with a less strict interpretation — allowing essential government services to continue in the absence of a spending bill. But even with that exception, the stakes of a legislative standoff had been raised — which could be why lawmakers suddenly got serious about making deals.  In the years leading up to Civiletti’s opinion, budget standoffs lasting a week or more were commonplace. But after the opinion, no standoff lasted more than three days until the epic government shutdowns of 1995.

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