Gail Collins / Dilly and dither take over

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The pope makes sense. Iran seems a little more reasonable. The Russians were quite helpful. And Congress is crazy.

This month, the pope made some sensible remarks about sex, and the president of Iran made some reasonable comments about nuclear weapons. The Russians proved helpful during an international crisis. Meanwhile, our Congress appears too crazed by internal conflict to keep the lights on.

Oh, dear.

Big deadline coming! In theory, by Monday, the House and Senate are supposed to have jointly approved 12 bills appropriating money to run the government in 2014. This should have resulted from a prudent rethinking of what agencies need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

This is probably not going to happen because the number of said bills passed by both bodies is zero. The very, very best we can hope for is that Congress will gird its loins, don its armor, march out into the field and pass an agreement to kick the budgetary can down the road before the federal office doors start slamming shut Tuesday.

"I'm tired of dilly and dither," said Barbara Mikulski, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman. So say we all.

Ms. Mikulski is arguing for a short-term can-kick, then to prod progress on serious spending bills. That, of course, would require a joint agreement on an overall bottom line. Which the House has refused to discuss.

There are many culprits in this story, but the big obstacle is the small but mighty cadre of Tea Party Republicans in the House. The ones who are trying to tie funding the government to the death of Obamacare. They are egged on by people like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who kept his colleagues immobilized this week while he talked for 21 straight hours. High points:

• Comparison of his 21 hours with the "Bataan death march."

• Comparison of people who think Obamacare cannot be repealed with the people who did not think Hitler could be stopped.

• Reading of "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss.

• Reading of a speech made by Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards.

The bit about Hitler appeasers drew an irate response from Sen. John McCain: "I spoke to Sen. Cruz about my dissatisfaction ... and he said he only intended it to be applied to pundits and not to members of the Senate." We would have loved to hear that conversation.

Mr. Cruz is basically a roadblock with a Princeton debate medal. But he's managed to achieve what no one else has been able to do in recent years: unite the vast majority of Congress around one big idea. Which is, in this case, hatred of Sen. Ted Cruz.

In his, um, extremely long speech, Mr. Cruz also claimed that senators had spent "virtually zero time even talking about jobs and the economy." Which isn't true. Just recently they devoted a lot of time to a new budget for transportation and housing that would have added a lot of jobs to the economy. It died when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug.

We stop here now for a moment to recall some of the other sensible pieces of legislation that have passed away for no discernible reason except political insanity. It will be a quick, quiet trip, similar to the one the finalists on "Survivor" take to remember all the people who have been voted off the island.

We will not forget you, good old Postal Service reform. Keeping you in our thoughts, bipartisan farm bill. Rest in peace, gun control. Till we meet again, energy efficiency legislation.

And we walk on, pretending not to notice immigration reform lying over in the corner, coughing pathetically.

What happens now? The Senate hopes to kick the can down the road. If we survive next week, there will be more cans and another fiscal cliff or two. Whoops! It's time for the holidays.

Let's cancel Christmas vacation for Congress. In fact, let's confine the House and Senate in the Capitol until they make us cliff-free. If we don't see any progress by Nov. 1, we take off the roof for the rest of the winter. No blankets until they become at least as reasonable as the Iranians. Or the pope on sex.


Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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