We continue to inch closer and closer to a train wreck in the form of not raising the debt limit by next week's deadline.
And most of us outside of the Beltway wonder why.
Because how did this gala argument start? Over bookkeeping. We've always passed these increases in the debt limit before, because it was a simple matter of living up to our obligations.
Not now, though. Now Congress has decided to attach some strings, and the result is a battle that sets new standards for a lack of common sense.
Let's outline a few facts here:
* There was absolutely no need to do this now, and risk defaulting on our bills and sending the economy down the cliff. If Washington had done this during budget-making season, when we usually talk about such matters, no one would have had a philosophical problem with it. By doing it now and threatening a default, when the economic recovery (and there is a recovery going on, albeit a slower-than-hoped-for one) is fragile, is downright irresponsible.
I'm the first to argue that balancing the budget is a fine idea, and we need to take big steps in that direction while having a good philosophical discussion about it.
* The Republicans have basically won this argument. Higher taxes are off the table, so it's just a matter of cutting government expenditures. That's in spite of the fact that historically taxation as a percentage of GDP is quite low. So, GOP members, take your gains, get a bill that everyone can live with, and move along.
* Anyone who says he or she won't vote for a debt limit increase under any circumstances must not have taken Economics 101, and doesn't seem to have the best interests of the country in mind. This means you, Michelle Bachmann, but I'm sure there are others who think they are scoring points with the Tea Party. They may be doing just that, but they aren't doing the rest of us any favors.
* There's plenty of blame to go around here. President Bush took a budget that was in good shape in 2001, and then ran two wars and cut taxes during his years in office. When the economy tanked, expenditures suddenly were far higher than revenues. And while President Obama can make a good case for trying to pump some money into the economy to create jobs, he also did have a laundry list of programs he wanted to fund when he was running in 2008.
* Speaking of elections, I am forced to laugh (and cry a little) when politicians say that a vote means endorsing his or her entire platform with no exceptions. There are two main choices in the general election, and we pick the one that comes the closest -- in some cases without much thought. In other words, many voters last November said no more than "the economy stinks, I'm voting for the other guy" with their ballots.
* Attention, lawmakers: There is nothing wrong with compromise. It's the way we get things done.
I remain hopeful that a little sense will appear in the next few days, and a deal will get done. But if it doesn't, I get the sense that everyone involved will be pouring a giant can of gasoline on their chances for reelection, and there will be a long line of people waiting to light a match.