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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Filed under: Budget
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. 21k

    we learned that a righteous xtian , newtie-boy, can divorce his first cancer-stricken wife while messing with wife #2, then help choir-lady wife #3 hit the high notes while still married to #2. and afer all that, he still has enough self-righteousness left to tell the rest of us how to live.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      You forgot while he was crusifying Prez. Clinton he was in the sack with someone other than his wife.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. L64

    Ah well...l always did march to the beat of my own drum! 😉

    April 9, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Atticus

    My take, for what it's worth:

    April 9, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joey

    L64, I, too, have my own drum.
    I had to take some phone calls.
    Knowing that you're around, from now on I'll write as I would for Maxwell Perkins.

    April 9, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. L64

    Sounds great.

    April 9, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. L64

    Lol @ Joey

    April 9, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. spenks

    too many able people take advantage of the welfare programs. oversight as to eligibility of persons is lacking and to my mind its a strain on the gov purse. Put those programs on the chopping blocks....

    April 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy

    One doesn't necessarily have to cut the programs; just tighten the eligibility requirements. Limit benefits to eliminate generational recipients. This was only meant to be a temporary measure, like unemployment. Do not reward irresponsible mothers for having babies by upping their benefits; they could benefit from such programs like PP, which, BTW, the gov't wants to cut funding for, also. Catch 22, anyone?

    April 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RiffRaff

    Havent they tightened up welfare requirement? Are they still kept on indefinitely as long as they keep having kids? I was pretty sure that was changed a while back,could be wrong. It used to be that way. They even rec'd mileage and tuition reimbursement to go to college,and subsidies for rent,heat etc. 'Welfare Queens" just dont seem to be as prevalent anymore.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy

    Not in my neighborhood. The Queens are doing just fine, thank you. As well as their little princes and princesses. I glad they're not prevalent where you live, but they're thriving nicely by me. Just saying.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. L64

    Have them here too. And as a teacher, you wouldn't believe the paperwork l'm asked to fill out so they can get ssi on their kids.

    April 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy

    “I know they like full Intrisitys.”


    April 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. L64

    No clue.

    April 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy

    Maybe "Inner Cities"?

    April 10, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. L64

    Ooo good thot!

    April 10, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
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