WASHINGTON - With budgetary tantrums in the Senate and investigative play-acting in the House, the Republican Party is proving once again that it simply cannot be taken seriously.
This is a shame. I don't share the GOP's philosophy, but I do believe that competition makes both of our major parties smarter. I also believe that a big, complicated country facing economic and geopolitical challenges needs a government able to govern.
What we don't need is the steady diet of obstruction, diversion and gamesmanship that Republicans are trying to ram down the nation's throat. It's not as if President Obama and the Democrats are doing everything right. It's just that the GOP shrinks from doing anything meaningful at all.
The most glaring example, at the moment, is in the Senate. For four years, Republican senators lambasted their Democratic colleagues -- with justification -- for not approving a budget, one of the basic tasks of governance. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and others regularly took to the Senate floor to announce the number of days since the Senate last produced a spending plan and to blast Majority Leader Harry Reid for this shocking failure.
Two months ago, Reid and the Democrats finally passed a budget. Since the House has already passed its version -- the controversial plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- the next step should be for both chambers to appoint members of a conference committee that would iron out the differences. But Republicans won't let this happen.
Specifically, far-right conservatives including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are refusing to allow the Senate to appoint its representatives to the conference. Yes, having demanded this budget for four years, Republicans are now refusing to let it go forward.
Some Republicans, that is. Establishment types such as John McCain of Arizona are apoplectic at the antics of their tea party-inspired colleagues, which McCain called "absolutely out of line and unprecedented."
Cruz and the others are worried that a conference committee might not only work out a budget but also make it possible to raise the federal debt ceiling without the now-customary showdown threatening default and catastrophe. They believe that brinkmanship is the only way to stop runaway government spending, which produces massive trillion-dollar deficits, which add to the ballooning national debt, which ...
Hold on, senator. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit is shrinking rapidly and will fall to $642 billion this fiscal year. That's still substantial, but it's less than half the deficit our government ran in 2011. More important, if annual deficits continue to decline as the CBO predicts, the long-term debt problem begins to look more manageable. That's good news, right?
What Republicans ought to do is declare a victory for fiscal conservatism and move on to the battle to have their priorities reflected in the budget -- a promising fight, since the conferees appointed by the GOP-controlled House are hardly going to be flaming liberals. Instead, the party seeks not consensus but crisis.
This is no way for a 2-year-old to act, much less the self-proclaimed "world's greatest deliberative body."
And speaking of juvenile behavior, I would be remiss not to mention how Rep. Darrell Issa of California and his GOP colleagues in the House are embarrassing themselves by straining to turn Obama administration missteps into Watergate-style scandals.
The deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, resulted from a security lapse of the kind that every recent administration, unfortunately, has suffered. Since future administrations will have lapses as well, congressional oversight could be useful in at least making sure the specific mistakes of Benghazi are not repeated. But instead, House Republicans summon the television cameras and ask round after round of tendentious questions -- without paying the slightest attention to the answers.
Similarly, on the question of how and why the IRS gave added scrutiny to conservative "social welfare" groups seeking nonprofit status, House inquisitors seem barely interested in what actually happened. "What did the president know and when did he know it?" was an appropriate question. But the follow-up -- "Harrumph, well then, why didn't he know sooner?" -- isn't much in the way of scandal material.
And concerning the Justice Department's overzealous crusade to thwart classified leaks -- and investigative reporting -- it is amusing to watch House Republicans twist themselves into champions of the hated Lamestream Media. Who knew?
None of this is boosting the GOP's poll numbers. I've got an idea: Why don't they try doing the people's business for a change?