According to Wikipedia from October 1 to October 17, 2013, the United States federal government entered a shutdown:

(..) curtailed most routine operations because neither legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014 nor a continuing resolution for the interim authorization of appropriations for fiscal year 2014 was enacted in time. Regular government operations resumed October 17 after an interim appropriations bill was signed into law.

During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed (..)

The reasons are quite clear, but I am wondering why does the law allow such an event as it seems to generate very undesirable effects? Why not temporarily function using previous year approvals (some sort of extrapolation) until the appropriate legislation is approved?

Question: Why is the US federal government allowed to shutdown?

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    If you're used to a "conventional" Westminster system parliamentary democracy, it may help to understand that the US is not one of those. The president and congress are elected separately from one another, at fixed intervals, and there is no notion whatsoever of "confidence." As a result, failure to pass a budget does not result in new elections and there is no guarantee that the executive and legislative branches will be "politically compatible." This was an explicit design goal of the American system - the effective separation of powers.
    – Kevin
    Sep 29, 2018 at 2:08

1 Answer 1


It's mostly due to the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches. Congress is solely responsible for funding things, and the President has the power to either veto the whole thing, or approve the whole thing.

Before 1980, the government had the tradition of carrying on the last year's budget if the new one had not yet passed, as Congress did not wish to incur the public ire for loss of government services, but also did not wish to give up the intricacies of budget negotiations, as that's where most pork-belly projects come from.

Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti noted in April 25th of 1980 that this was technically in violation of the 1884 Antideficiency Act that basically said that we needed everybody's actual signature before the money was distributed. When Congress failed to pass its budget for the FTC on May 1st (due to drawn-out political in-fighting about whether the FTC should be allowed to actually compel anything), President Carter called their bluff and shut down the FTC for lack of funding.

From then after, Presidents used this as a blunt instrument to force Congress to do its job in a timely fashion, and eventually, as a tool to dismantle the bureaucracy of the federal government itself.

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