While the government has shut down before, in most of the other instances only parts of the government closed down and many of them happened mostly or completely during holidays and weekends, which muted the impact, according to Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly.
Excluding shutdowns that happened before 1980, when government workers were all still mostly allowed to do work “voluntarily” without pay while the government was closed (today they are legally barred from doing so unless they are deemed to be essential workers), a large majority of the rest were over weekends and holidays. “Since nearly all federal workers on the job on weekends are doing work that would be classified as ‘essential,’ there was very little difference between the manner in which the government operated on such occasions and any other weekend for which Congress had provided funding for operations,” Lilly writes.
The exceptions are those that happened in 1995 under President Clinton. The first began on a Tuesday, November 14, and ended the next Sunday, which meant the government was closed for six days that included just four full workdays. The second shutdown began on a Saturday, December 15, and ended 21 days later on Saturday, January 6, which meant the government was shut down for 13 workdays. The current one has already lasted four workdays.
On top of all of this, some of the shutdowns before 1995 only closed a few departments of government because “Congress had already completed appropriations legislation for most of the government before the impasse over spending was reached,” Lilly explains. This was also true for the shutdowns in the ’90s. For the first, only 12 of 15 federal departments were involved. The second only affected programs impacted by six of 13 appropriations bills and was felt by less than one fifth of the federal workforce.
The cost of those arguably smaller shutdowns in 1995 was estimated at $1.4 billion, although Lilly points out that the estimate leaves out a number of factors. But the current shutdown looks to rack up a high price tag quickly. It is costing at least $300 million a day, a figure that will accelerate the longer the government is closed. If it lasts three to four weeks, the total could come to about $55 billion. The costs come from a variety of factors. Local communities are losing $76 million a day thanks to the closure of national parks. Lost GDP could be as much as 1.4 percent. Furloughed employees’ pay will suck about $1 billion a week out of the economy. It will reduce government spending by about $8 billion. There are plenty of other impacts that will be costly but are hard to estimate.