After Harry Reid said Mitt Romney went for 10 years without paying taxes, one Republican spokesman called him "a dirty liar," which was true enough and perfectly apt, but was the tiniest part of the story. As surely one of the worst Senate majority leaders in U.S. history, this bumbling, fumbling mishap of a Democratic legislator has helped set the country up for a mighty fall.
The Romney hit, which Reid said came from "an extremely credible source," was more an indictment of the prosecutor than the prosecuted. Meant to force the Republican presidential candidate to reveal tax returns Democrats could misinterpret to their advantage, it is unforgivably nasty ad hominem overreach that does something Reid should not want. It puts him in the spotlight.
We stare for a moment and then quickly recollect how this relentlessly snarling, ceaselessly irresponsible partisan has been a key player in debt malfeasance, fiscal chicanery and the risk of 2013 becoming one of the unluckiest numbers in the nation's history. I have it from extremely credible sources, including The New York Times, that a congressional failure to prevent automatic tax hikes and spending cuts at the start of next year could lead to economic mayhem. Reid is largely responsible.
He is not the only one, of course. The Republicans have contributed their share to the danger, and the biggest miscreant on the block is President Barack Obama, who thinks it more important to play nonsensical re-elect-me games about the rich not paying their fair share of taxes than to seek out real answers to real issues. Reid has been an Obama sidekick doing more to gouge Republicans than to seek a coalition preventing $399 billion worth of Bush-era tax cuts from expiring in January while also stopping automatic spending cuts.
The Congressional Budget Office has said this combination will shrink an already shrinking economy, and the Times reports that major manufacturers are right now nixing new hires -- a boost to high unemployment figures -- in anticipation of the double whammy. The issue is not that spending reductions are a bad idea or that reforming taxes to raise revenues would be loutish behavior. The issue is that these things must be done carefully and gradually as lawmakers take the necessary steps to prevent immediate catastrophe while integrating their decisions into an overall, coherent spending and taxing plan -- a budget more comprehensive than stop-gap measures.
The Republican House passed one this year. The Democratic Senate has incredibly failed to pass one since 2009, and Reid says there's no reason it should. There is plenty of reason. Budgets are like rules of the road that prevent accidents. They are like maps that get you where you want to go. They establish priorities and outline limits. If you don't have one with the force of law behind it, you are wandering haplessly about as error doggedly pursues you.
So why don't we have one? It's mainly that Democrats who control the Senate do not want to be pinned down on exactly where they stand. If Reid had the right stuff, he would get this job and other jobs done. Instead, he gives us gaffes about such things as the war in Iraq being lost and baffling orations about the need for the government to support cowboy poetry.
It's probably unfair to compare Reid to one of the great congressional leaders, Sam Rayburn, who became Democratic speaker of the House in 1940 and served in that position off and on for 17 years. He is reported to have understood legislation inside and out. He got things done when they needed to be done. Some of my political beliefs are different from what his were, but I love it that he refused any financial dealings as a lawyer with anyone who might have interests in legislative action. Reid could at least live up to that, but in fact had profitable land dealings with someone who would have benefited from legislation Reid introduced.
A lie about Romney was to be expected.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)