Congressional Quagmire

Written by David Frum on Tuesday December 20, 2011

The problem is bigger than the House of Representatives. The prior question is: why did the Senate adjourn having passed such a ridiculous thing as a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday?

It's the answer to that question that reveals the true dysfunction in Congress.

The Senate passed a two-month stopgap tax holiday because it could not agree on how the tax measure was to be "paid for." Senate Republicans wanted bigger spending cuts, including a pay freeze for federal workers. Senate Democrats wanted a series of pin-prick upper-income tax increases, including an end to the tax deductibility of corporate jets.

Because the "pay for" could not be agreed, the Senate passed a stopgap holiday.

Because the House Republicans think the stopgap holiday is stupid, they won't adopt the Senate version.

Because the Senate quit for Christmas after enacting the stopgap, the House's refusal now threatens to put an end to the payroll holiday altogether.

Is this any way to run a great country?

Why do we have to agree now on how to balance the budget later? Isn't emerging from this economic slump a big enough challenge? No creditor is demanding an early budget-balance plan. On the contrary, the world is eager to lend the US money at bargain rates. Congress is so consumed by tomorrow's problem that it will not address today's crisis.

This is the real-world consequence of the wrong idea introduced to US politics that it is debts and deficits that caused the slump, rather than the other way around. For the moment, it's all farcical. It could easily turn tragic.