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by Daniel Yergin | CNBC

There have been 17 government shutdowns since 1976 and they’ve lasted an average of 5 days. But one truly stands out — December 1995. That was the superstorm, the one people remember like the giant hurricane. It lasted three weeks. It is also the benchmark against which the current shutdown and its economic effects are being evaluated. The similarities to today’s battle are eerie. Here’s what actually happened — and how it finally ended.

Outlawing the deficit

Bill Clinton had come to Washington in 1993 with “New Democratic” politics that emphasized restraint by government in contrast to the more traditional liberalism that critics had taken to calling “tax and spend.” In 1993, the president pushed through a deficit-reduction program in the face of tough opposition. The administration also launched an ambitious plan for the federal government to assume responsibility for the largest sector of the economy — medical care — but that program had foundered on its very complexity.

The Republicans came back with a vengeance in 1994, winning control of both the House and the Senate. Their manifesto, championed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was the “Contract with America,” a list of undertakings aimed to assuage the anxieties of middle America, along with the promise to cut back on regulation and government intervention in the economy, shrink the size of the American government — specifically, to contain government spending and balance the budget. They also wanted to pass a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget — in other words, outlawing the deficit.