Queen Marie Antoinette of France, when told that the peasants had no bread, supposedly replied "then let them eat cake." Her purported response is often cited as an example of royal insensitivity to the problems of the poor. As we all know she and her husband, King Louis XVI, were rewarded by being subsequently guillotined.
A similar fate is unlikely to befall the Coast Guard genius who recently advised employees not getting paychecks during the shutdown to hold garage sales. But if government employee thoughts could kill, some officials would probably be having unexpected funerals.
There are loud arguments about which officials should get the main blame for the shutdown. The leading candidates are President Donald Trump, on the one hand, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the other hand. No doubt all of them share some responsibility.
Trump himself even claimed before it started that he would proudly take responsibility for it. Pelosi's curt refusal to even consider appropriating money for a wall if Trump would allow the government to open up first didn't help.
But a strong argument can be made that the principal "honors" should go to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican Majority Leader of the Senate. In a letter to our local newspaper in Corvallis, Oregon, a reader recently wrote that: "By refusing to bring up anything the president says he won't sign, MConnell has allowed him almost dictatorial powers." Although I concur, I'm afraid that this understates how serious McConnell's stance has been.
As I noted in a recent column, the Constitution not only lets the president veto acts of Congress, but it also allows the Congress to override presidential vetoes with the concurrence of two-thirds of each chamber. By refusing to let the Senate vote on something that the president threatens to veto, McConnell has in effect single-handedly amended the Constitution to take away Congress' power to override vetoes.
Many conservatives have argued that it is intolerable for a nine person Supreme Court to amend the Constitution by "interpreting" it to mean things that could not possibly have been intended by those who drafted and ratified it. It is even more outrageous for a single member of Congress to amend the Constitution to remove from it the congressional right to override presidential vetoes.
McConnell's practice, if allowed to continue, prevents Congress from reopening the government without having to appropriate money for a wall felt (correctly, I think) by a majority of its members to be inefficient and wasteful. As I explained in a previous commentary, Congress could do this if McConnell would allow the Senate to vote on a measure to this effect initiated by the Democrat-controlled House.
If the Senate passed it, and the president vetoed it, members of Congress who wish their branch to regain its full constitutional powers might agree to support their team and override the veto even if they had opposed the legislation itself.
Why won't McConnell's fellow Republicans in the Senate rise up and toss him out for this?
This would make them members of a far more powerful body, but it would rock the boat and most politicians are not (and never have been) "profiles in courage." But if they don't, they are enabling him and in turn enabling the president to continue — if he chooses — a policy that is doing grave harm to many Americans.
The current deadlock could be resolved in several ways. Mr. Trump could change his mind yet again, firing hard-liner Steven Miller for fast-talking him into reversing his previous support for a bipartisan compromise.
Or Nancy Pelosi could agree to consider appropriations after the shutdown ends. She would condition this on whether the people Trump claims advised him we need a wall can convince Congress that barriers in specific locations would make sense and be cost-effective.
Best of all, in my opinion, would be to get rid of McConnell, or at least force him let the Senate vote on measures the president has not endorsed. Making it possible for Congress to resume its constitutional right to override vetoes would restore some balance to the powers of the three branches of our government.
Worst of all would be for Mr. Trump to declare an emergency and completely bypass Congress's constitutional monopoly on the right to appropriate money. We need a more powerful Congress, not a weaker one.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.