Leadership: How can a Congress with such a large majority of Democrats, plus a Democratic president, tell voters with a straight face that it can't pass a budget? Answer: For them, acting is less popular than stalling.
In the 14th-century poem "Parlement of Foules," Chaucer dreams of a comic parliamentary debate of birds. In 21st century America, our birdbrain legislature is a nightmare come true.
Why would a Congress so firmly in the hands of one party and one ideology have to enact a continuing resolution to forestall a government shutdown, instead of passing a budget as required under law? When it has no worries about the president vetoing such a spending plan (he isn't running for re-election this year), why can't it get its act together?
Because congressional Democrats are in a state of panic. They know an electoral catastrophe is looming, and inaction is easier to defend than action especially actions such as spending trillions and letting the biggest tax increase in history take effect.
This is the first time in modern history that both the Senate and House of Representatives have not been able to pass a simple budget resolution. With discretionary spending up 28% over the last two years, as the Heritage Foundation has noted, Democrats' laughable claims of a spending freeze will leave voters cold.
Another reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their Democratic majority wanted to get out of Dodge without finishing what they started is that a vote on the Bush tax cuts might very well have blown up in their faces thanks to moderate Democrats who want to keep their jobs.
But even if Pelosi and Reid had won a vote on the tax cuts, vulnerable Democrats would still be on the record. Those voting for the big tax increases would be hurt electorally by such a roll call, of course. But those voting to keep the Bush tax cuts would be an embarrassment to Democratic leaders. Better to wait till after the election and have a lame-duck vote, safe from the ire of the ballot box.
As independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman told the Associated Press: "It was going to be mutually assured destruction" if they held votes or debates on the matters before them.
It seems like any vote would have been the equivalent of a Republican campaign ad. Passing a budget would have brought the voters' attention to the fact that this Congress is spending America into a new space-time continuum.
Voting on the ethics cases before it such as that of Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., pushed out as House Ways and Means Committee chairman but embarrassingly poised to be re-elected in his Harlem district would let Americans see the corruption at the heart of Washington's power center.
But there's no escaping the voters. They will now take note that America's Parliament Most Foul has flown the coop rather than fulfill its responsibilities.