The Founders would be aghast

The federal government shutdown, unless it ended before you read this, is now completing its fifth week. 

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have gone without being paid for more than a month. 

The battle, of course, centers on President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for additional border wall construction. 

Trump decided to take federal employees hostage to force congressional Democrats to accede to his wish. Democrats say no, and that’s where it stands.

Shutting down the government has no automatic connection to a border wall, nor to any other disputed issue. It’s a technique akin to extortion, and it’s not at all what the founders of the nation had in mind when they drafted the Constitution. 

A shutdown is exactly opposite to the spirit of compromise and separation of powers the Founders intended.

A multi-week shutdown creates a multitude of problems, as we’re seeing through modern 24-hour news coverage. One of the most potent of those is that once it’s employed as a weapon, it becomes more thinkable in the future.

Already, other pressure groups are starting to consider a shutdown as a way to achieve their own ends. For example, some pro-life advocates are talking about a shutdown to force termination of all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. 

It’s not a stretch to envision other such efforts. 

What if the tables were turned? 

What if a Democratic president decided a shutdown was the way to bring a Republican Congress into line? 

Outlaw coal-fired power plants? 

Make voluntary ag conservation mandatory instead? 

Sharply increase government ownership of western lands? 

Boost the top income tax rate to 50 percent? 

Force Medicare for All? 

Forbid all large campaign contributions? 

Easy — just shut down the government until Congress caves.

As the sayings go, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube or the genie back in the bottle. 

It’s the same problem the U.S. Senate now faces since its Republican leadership in early 2016 employed the so-called “Biden Rule” to shut Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, out of even a committee hearing. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley maintained that the Biden rule required denying a president the right to have a Supreme Court nominee considered by the Senate, if the vacancy and nomination occurred during the last year of a presidential term. The Senate must wait until after the November general election to give the people a chance to decide who would make that nomination, they stated.

Well, we’ll see what the Senate does if a Supreme Court vacancy should occur in 2020. That’s certainly a possibility. 

Will the Senate, still under Republican control, refuse to consider President Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy? Senators Grassley and Ernst are both on the Judiciary Committee — will they deny Trump his nominee, and pledge to wait until after the 2020 presidential election?

Government leaders should think carefully about what levers of power they choose to pull, for their own good and that of the American people.

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