Michael Barone

The problem was caused by James Madison. And by the 39 other men who signed the Constitution in 1787.

The problem, of course, is the government shutdown. It was caused because the Framers of the Constitution wisely provided for separation of powers among the three branches of government.

The president would faithfully execute the laws and be commander in chief of the military, but both houses of Congress would have to approve of every penny the government could spend.

In the early republic, it was widely assumed that presidents could veto legislation only it was deemed unconstitutional. Disagreeing with policy was not enough.

That changed after Andrew Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832 and was promptly reelected. Jackson claimed to act on constitutional grounds, but it came to be understood that presidents could veto laws they disagreed with.

That understanding, together with the constitutional structure, imposes something like a duty of consultation between the president and members of Congress. Otherwise -- and you may have heard about this -- the government will have to shut down.

Barack Obama hasn't engaged in much consultation this summer and fall. He has announced he won't negotiate with House Speaker John Boehner.

His defenders note that Boehner has stated publicly he won't negotiate with the president. Boehner believes Obama unfairly upped the ante in their "grand bargain" negotiations in August 2011.

As a practical matter, it's Obama's refusal to negotiate that matters. A member of Congress can't get time with the president or his top aides on demand. A president can always get through to a member of Congress -- as Obama did, finally, Monday night for a conversation described as "less than ten minutes."

Astonishingly, Obama said in a prepared statement that no president had negotiated ancillary issues with Congress when a shutdown was threatened. Four Pinocchios, said Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler.

The Post's Wonkblog helpfully listed 17 government shutdowns since the late 1970s. Almost all involved legislative-executive disagreement over ancillary issues.

The bulk of pundit opinion, on the Right as well as the Left, holds that House Republicans blundered by attaching Sen. Ted Cruz's defund Obamacare amendment to the continuing resolution funding the government.

Democrats would never accept that, they say. And voters will blame Republicans for shutting down government.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM