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Current US Government Shutdown Debate Similar to One 15 Years Ago


House Speaker Newt Gingrich (left) looks on as President Clinton talks to reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 29, 1996 (file photo)

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (left) looks on as President Clinton talks to reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 29, 1996 (file photo)

The impasse over the U.S. government budget now playing out in Washington is similar to a spending dispute in late 1995 and early 1996 that led to two shutdowns of numerous government operations.

Like today, the political fight involved a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and a newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives that was seeking to curb government spending. In the process, about 800,000 civilian federal workers were furloughed, the same number that could be laid off from their jobs this time, if Democratic President Barack Obama cannot reach an agreement on a spending plan with the Republican majority in the House, led by Speaker John Boehner.

The key players in the dispute 15 years ago were Mr. Clinton and Newt Gingrich, the Republican House speaker who had taken over leadership of the chamber after the 1994 midterm elections. He called his campaign platform a "Contract with America." It called for deep cuts in federal spending and the passage of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When most of the Republican proposals failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, Gingrich and other Republicans sought major cuts in federal spending for health care for the elderly and the poor, similar to what today's Republicans are seeking. And as now, lawmakers and the president kept the government open by passing a stopgap funding measure.

But in 1995, after Mr. Clinton vetoed a Republican spending bill he deemed too small for health care and education programs, the government closed for six days in November.

Another short-term spending plan was approved, but, it too, soon ran out. The government was shut down a second time for 22 days - from mid-December 1995 to early-January 1996. Congress and Mr. Clinton agreed on a seven-year balanced budget plan, but the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution was not approved.

Then, as now, Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the budget conflict. But in the 1990s, public opinion soon swung in the president's and the Democrats' favor. Today, most public opinion polls show the electorate nearly evenly divided between blaming Democrats and Republicans in Washington for the budget stalemate.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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