Boosted approval ratings and back pay: Lessons learned from past shutdowns
April 8th, 2011
09:32 PM ET

Boosted approval ratings and back pay: Lessons learned from past shutdowns

There's no question that the country can make it through a government shutdown. We've done it before - 17 times since 1977, reports. What have we learned from previous shutdowns?

The last two shutdowns occurred on President Bill Clinton's watch, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republicans controlling the Senate clashed with the president over the federal budget.

Most political strategists agree that the Clinton-era shutdowns politically benefited the sitting president, who was able to paint Republicans as obstructionist. According to Gallup, his handling of the shutdown boosted his popularity.

"In the wake of the government shutdown in early 1996, Clinton's approval rating moved permanently above the 50% level, and never fell below 52% after that," Gallup reported in 2001, upon his exit from office.

The same warnings are being echoed by prominent Republicans such as Karl Rove. In his weekly polling memo, the former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush cautioned that a shutdown could boost President Barack Obama's approval ratings, citing the Clinton effect.

"The shutdowns helped improve Clinton's political standing, boosting both his approval rating and perceptions of him as a strong leader," Rove wrote. "At the time, poll watchers noted that, 'the only time Clinton's ratings have improved substantially the past year as a result of his actions has been when he adopted a strategy of confrontation.' "

There are other parallels. Like today, the government in 1995 had not settled on a spending measure that would cover the whole fiscal year. Republicans this year were pushing for a deal that would cut spending by $61 billion, but Democrats have wanted only a fraction of that.

Even the rhetoric sounds familiar, said CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who covered the Clinton-era budget showdowns.

Blitzer said that at the time, Gingrich accused the president of being more interested in politics and campaigning, accusations that current House Speaker John Boehner has made against Obama.

Much of the public's outrage over the potential shutdown has focused on loss of pay and benefits for members of the military and their families. Thousands of troops and their families are worried that if the government shuts at midnight, they would receive half a check next week and not see another paycheck until May 1 - if the government shutdown is resolved by then.

Troops got paid in November 1995 because the first shutdown lasted only six days. It also came at a specific time of the month and the shutdown was resolved in time for the next paycheck to be issued in full, officials said.

A senior defense official told CNN that as long as an agreement is reached by Tuesday, the Pentagon could possibly work quickly enough to cut troops a full check on the next pay date, April 15. If the shutdown lasts past Tuesday, the Pentagon is making plans to have an emergency payday and troops may not have to wait until May 1, the senior defense official said.

Past experience also provides some hope. The second, longer shutdown in December 1995 would have meant troops were not paid, but Congress passed an appropriation for defense funding in advance of the second shutdown.

Read more: Government shutdown FAQS

Like then, there's concern for the roughly 800,000 federal employees who stand to be furloughed and lose income. In every previous government shutdown, Congress has authorized back pay for days they didn't work. Of course, there's no guarantee that will happen again. Plus, there may be a double whammy: workers will get their paychecks, but the work they normally do will have piled up in the meantime. When workers return, agencies might have to pay overtime just to catch up on all the work that wasn't done during the shutdown.

As for services that stand to be halted, during the Clinton-era shutdowns, 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed and toxic waste cleanup work at 609 sites stopped. The National Institutes of Health stopped accepting new clinical research patients and services for veterans, including health care, were curtailed. Work on bankruptcy cases could slow. In the last shutdown, more than 3,500 cases were delayed.

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soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Lyn

    I have been watching CNN for last few hours to see if I should report to work on Monday or not. This has caused EXTREME frustration for me. My husband is currenlty deployed as well but these spouses that are on the news are making me MAD. The first lady was on saying that she made $2000. a month and had to buy "special" formula for her baby. If she is indeed making $2000 a month with two children she is probably receiving WIC, and last I knew there were no bases is MI so she is probably living at home AND her husband is deployed so she is making WAY more than $2000. a month. Now there is a lady on TV saying that she cannot buy shoes for her 15 year old son – and she had to put her husbands truck that was a suprise for him after his last deployment. Chances are lady you bought the truck with an LES that has his deployment pay on it and now you can't afford it. If the goverment shuts down I will not be working nor will my husband be getting paid – I have some money is savings that should hold out until it is fixed becuase during my husband 5 deployments I put that extra money away just in case. There are SO many people out there that lost jobs in the last few years but I did not hear them on the news crying and lying about actual wages. You are embarrasing ALL military spouses. It does stink that these congress is using us as pawns in their own personal agendas but please don't stoop to their level and lie about what you don't have!

    April 8, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas

      You are right, I have a solution for a woman who says her and her neighbors sat in the yard all day worried about shoes for her 15 year old too. Hell, our double income family were aaaallll at work today. Not to mention I was busing tables at 15, Get their lazy assses to work.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lyn

      @ Texas Amen – I did not work when my kids were young because it was cheaper to stay at home. It was a struggle but worth it in the end. But I never sat in my front yard boo hoo'ing about what we weren't getting and years ago it was NOTHING

      April 8, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      When our Platoon Sergeant put out notes today and asked who would have issues, 6 out of 31 soldiers were going to struggle. Of those 6 we were able to square away 4. Two are going to be an issue and we are looking at options like AER.

      Are there stupid people out there?
      Unfortunately they are only showing the idiots on the news.
      But trust me when I say that there are some good troops out there that live pay check to pay check that don't deserve this.

      The only good thing I see coming out of this is mandatory financial training classes.
      I can see it coming already.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sha

      Lyn i am sorry to say this but it seems you have a speech impairment or you cannot make your sentences sound right. Before you want to criticize others and stuff.You know life would be much more easier if the Rich people help out in this time of crisis.Instead no they are to greedy to help out.You they forget its the poor class that makes them who they are.We do not need to listen to music anymore or what movies thats what keeps them in a job.But we do cause we enjoy watching TV and watching movies.But ask yourselves this why when things turn worse that we are the ones the poor class i am referring to have to be the ones to pay out of our pockets to this mess that isn't of our doing?That makes no sense to me at all but then again i am not in Congress.It is a shame that how this is turning out.I have a brother and a lot of friends who are deployed across seas i am against them not getting paid.They put their lives on the line for us to defend us and they pay the ultimate price over there and Congress wants to stop their pay.Why don't the do this find the people who do not need Social security Income and take it away from them cause all they are doing is living off the government for free.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • nathon

      I completely agree. Some people in the military honestly struggle from pay check to pay check, just like us regular people out here, with jobs and bills. However, the mom sitting at home worried about shoes and selling her husband's truck, get a life. First, you and your son are old enough to have, at least, part time jobs; might not pay everything, but it would help. Second, if you have to put your husband's truck up for sale this early in the game, then your finances are more in a mess than you are willing to admit. Maybe you should have saved that money or bought a used car you could afford on 1 income. Don't blame the government because you blew all your money up front and now struggle to make it. You sound like a pro athlete that makes $20 million a year, but some how manages to have a mortgaged house and 3 financed cars; dumb!

      April 9, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      How can these stupid congress people not have exempted our troops so this wasn't an issue for them? Especially when, if a shutdown happened congress would have still collected their pay.
      These stories on CNN make me angry. A new study just came out saying 71% of illegals collect one form of welfare or another. Where is the story on how the closure would have impacted those illegals?
      How sickining is it that our troops wouldn't have been paid, but several forms of welfare would have continued? 2012 can't come soon enough.

      April 9, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. Texas

    That is why Gingrich is a forgotten moron. Like Bonner will be. The Repukes are obstructionists.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joseph Green

    My wife is serving in Iraq now, She has already seen that her next paycheck is only half of what she sould get. It is posted on "My Pay". She is not the only one...all of the troops with her have seen the same thing and the Gov is not shut down yet. I think people should know about this disgrace,

    April 8, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Troop in TX

      Yes, my pay shows that we (military) are getting paid half of what we normally do. This is because there is no funding as of midnight tonight and my pay posts our pay about a week out. This was not done to short change anyone in the military. I've been in the military for 22 yrs and am not worried. I have put away more than enough money to last. I see young troops driving BMWs and Mercedes Benz. If they don't have money then they should have been more frugal. The military will get back pay so why are people "freaking out"....

      April 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sunar From Indonesia Phone: 628993362379 Web:

    im deeply concern about troop members and familes, they sacrifice their live for the country dignity, but deemed non essential,

    April 8, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      You just worry about yourself ok?

      April 9, 2011 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tryhonesty

    Everytime the RepubliCONs get power the price of American Oil soars, the economy and standard of living declines. The Greedy OLD Party needs to care about ALL Americans not just the top 2%. Obstructionists always.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • dealingwithmorons

      Yes, it's the Republicans fault that oil prices are going up? There's some stuff going on in Libya and the middle east that may have something to do with it. Try some independent thought, go ahead, break new ground. Simpleton.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebecca

      @dealingwithmorons: We DO NOT get our oil from Libya (or Egypt for that matter). We have al the oil we need in Iraq. So stop playing! Oil prices have been steadily increasing for the last 2.5 years. How do you explain that? Demand and a couple of hurricanes. Nothing to do with Libya or the Middle East.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • dealingwithmorons


      You have no clue how the oil markets work. Prices are driven through the commodity market. It doesn't matter where we get our oil. You can thank Clinton for that. It wasn't that way until he changed the law. Oh, and the Republicans were just elected in November. That was 5 months ago. If oil has been rising for the last 2.5 years, you've got some explaining to do when it comes to tying the Republicans to it. Try logic.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • dkriegs

      @tryhonesty and rebecca. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and guess you are just uninterested in doing some basic research on how the price of oil is derived. Hint: it has little to do with the GOP or democrats, and little to do with american government as even our own government has limited power in stabilizing oil prices (shocker because were america right)

      April 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizWiz

      I live in California, and I pay $4.27 per gallon on the pump and I believe that ever since we have a war, on oil reserves, fuel prices go up. Listen to the news carefully and the Republicans are not the ones that are "making" the fuel prices to go up, but overall is the economy. And to complain about politics it is both Republican and Democrat party not making the right political choices for the U.S. citizens.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • L2389

      I know they like full Intrisitys.

      April 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sbg

    CNN's bias is evident even in the pictures they use. Took me only a few seconds to switch the color balance to show Clinton with the same severe "sun burn" as Gingrich has in the picture above and another few seconds to give both a normal skin tone. Propaganda at every level...

    April 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |

      I think you are the only one who noticed that.


      April 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas

      Are you drunk?

      April 8, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Haha as opposed to fox?

      April 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • RJ

      @sbg: I noticed the difference in skin tone, but my thought was how pale and washed-out Clinton looked - how much he had aged. Newt, on the other hand, looks pretty good - tanned and vital. I honestly don't see media bias in the photos. If bias is intended, I'd say Newt benefited this time around.

      April 9, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. john

    CNN, i think it's "Newt", not "New"

    April 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. We love shutdown

    shut down is excellent. A practice run for the real thing. No problems other than the military tax welfare whiners. Notice how they are self righteous while america pays for their new car..px discounts.. Free travel expenses and haidoss..on and on like egypt..insh allah.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. We love shutdown

    in fact the u.s. Military is the most bloated and under performing corporate contract in the entire world today.. Notice how self righteous this chinese american military has become? The most overfunded with every little no name contractor in the trough of unlimited corporate handouts..discounts.. And failure to perform worldwide.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. We love shutdown

    see just how the airforce contracts overfunded projects that render at ten times the cost for obsolete products just to keep insider trading partners floating. This makes lehman banking look like a happy day. Your kids pay in decades ahead for the big elephant that cannot run or do tricks.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yeah You

      First I don't like going to places and not getting paid especially in the middle east. Next last I checked I'm still paying taxes and so is every one else around me. Only people who sit on a couch all day and don't contribute any thing to the US sit around saying they love shutdowns. Yes I will agree that some things especially contracting needs to be fixed. But if you ever get the chance to shop at these cheap PX and Commissary you would be going back to your local shops and wonder why some thing that's payed with tax dollars our so expensive.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lyn

    @ Troop in Texas we also have saved my husband has been in for 24 years, I work and I drive a Nissan Sentra. I would say I live like most Americans. And I do not understand why they are already freaking out when they just got paid 8 days ago.
    @ We love shut down -Soldiers do work hard – maybe not all of them but a good portion of them. I do not consider it welfare when they actually work while stateside from 6am to 6 pm and while deployed they work 7 days a week. They are people working in a corporate world; they do what the bosses tell them to do. Also there are no free travel unless it is to Iraq or Afghanistan because they are not corporate bosses. And as for the PX not sure if you have been in one lately but it cheap!

    April 8, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Exfed

      They are freaking out because the news media is stirring up discontent and some people just love to be the center of attention. Retired from DoD and never missed a pay check although there were numerous times that congress dallied with the budget. The hate and envy for the military and federal sector that fills these posts is from people who don't know what they're talking about but just like to b*&&^%h about everything. There are lazy slackers everywhere...not just the feds.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JJC

    The difference in 1995 was that CLINTON WAS NOT A COWARD LIKE OBAMA IS!!! He is afraid of fighting the GOP it is sad. The reason he was elected was to fight not to sit back and go missing while the country goes in the toilet.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • twalk

      When GWB was elected he was not elected to PUT us in the TOILET. His arrogrants did that.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dante

    Please pay the troops. Please respect their service.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DisgustedWithPeople

    I find it humorous that the government cannot come to a resolution. what I do not find humorous is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people and the military may suffer if it is not resolved quickly. As said our military may be lazy in some aspects but its their life on the line for your right to live your life in America as you choose. I have friends and family serving and respect their commitments to our freedom and way of life. Respect our troops. Abhor the thought of a shutdown due to the impact it can possibly have on our fragile economy and hope that extensions are passed to avoid a potential calamitous situation from developing. On a side note shame on those who applaud a shut down and those who are responsible for it as well.

    April 8, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Here we go again

      I agree.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mari

    @dealingwithmorons... We get most of our oil from Canada...

    April 8, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dealingwithmorons

      So? Do you have a clue how the oil commodity market works? Apparently not.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Speculators. They guess at what everything will be like in 6 months to a year from now. Wrong or right we always pay.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
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