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U.S. warily watches repeat of Clinton-era shutdown fiasco

AFP-JIJI

The U.S. government shut down on Tuesday last week in a replay of brinkmanship between Republican and Democratic forces last seen in 1995 and 1996.

After Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in 1994, hardliners picked a fight with then President Bill Clinton over budget cuts that included funding of the Medicare health program for the elderly.

On Nov. 14, 1995, a six-day shutdown led to the furlough of about 800,000 federal employees, after Clinton vetoed two emergency funding bills that he said contained unacceptable budget cuts.

An emergency bill then provided funds for most operations through Dec. 15, when the government shut down again for three weeks, with another furlough of 280,000 workers while nearly 500,000 more worked without paychecks.

On Jan. 5, 1996, Congress voted to begin paying federal employees again and Clinton promptly signed the legislation, though a heavy snow storm kept many workers away from their desks until Jan. 10.

Republican leaders, boosted by their first majority in 40 years, were pulled to the right by hard-line freshmen who wanted to cut $226 billion from Medicare funding while also pushing through a tax cut worth $240 billion.

Clinton insisted that Medicare funds could be cut by no more than $102 billion and sought to limit the tax cut to $87 billion.

Republican lawmakers also wanted to cut federal funds to education and environmental programs.

A third shutdown was narrowly avoided on Jan. 26, 1996, but the two sides reached a final agreement on the annual budget only in late September of that year.

The showdown is credited with helping Clinton win a second term in 1996, as polls showed that most voters blamed the crisis on uncompromising Republican stances.