The framers of the American system of government, with its division of powers, assumed that the art of compromise would make it work and be an antidote to gridlock. They assumed too much. Today a stubborn group of tea-party-backed lawmakers would rather bring down the country than concede one inch.
In their departure from normal politics, they almost succeeded in pushing the nation into default this year, a calamity that was narrowly averted. Now they want to drop a big piece of coal in everyone's Christmas stockings.
For lack of congressional compromise, payroll taxes are going to rise from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent and long-term unemployment benefits are going to run out -- this in the worst economic times since the Great Depression. As a result, some 160 million Americans are going to have to pay the price of freshmen Republicans who don't give a damn unless they get their own way.
The Senate did its part, with Democrats and Republicans agreeing on a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. The Republicans succeeded in including language requiring President Barack Obama to make up his mind within 60 days on the Keystone XL pipeline project, which environmentalists oppose. The bill passed 89-10, with 39 of 46 Republicans voting for it.
Then it came to the House of Representatives, with holdouts giving the excuse that they wanted a one-year tax cut extension or none at all. Would one year be better? Of course. Are the Democrats also playing politics, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refusing to negotiate further? Of course.
But can the blame be shared equally? Of course not. The House Democrats unanimously voted against rejecting the compromise bill. So in approving the rejection bill 229-193 and repudiating the efforts of adults in their own party, the House Republican majority owns this Christmas tax hike.
Even The Wall Street Journal editorial page, the daily bible of conservatives, was aghast at how badly Republican leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner had handled this "fiasco." It wrote, "At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly."
Yes, but how? Republican leaders now find themselves in the same position that Dr. Frankenstein was in -- unable to control the monster of his own creation. After all, the tea-party types who now inhabit Congress did what their electorates voted them in to do -- reject compromise and bipartisanship. All other Americans should note how this is working out.