Congress needs its summer break. Maybe getting away from Washington will help its members see the folly of the partisan stonewalling that threatens to leave in shambles not just health-care reform, but anything else worth pursuing.

Who would have thought the situation would be this bad eight months after the inauguration of a president elected in large part because voters believed he could bridge the partisan canyon exploited by his predecessors?

Even Republicans who fiercely fought Barack Obama's election believed he would be able to sweet-talk their tribe. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) speculated in a postelection column that Republican presidential nominee John McCain would likely become a key Obama ally.

Instead, the Republican senator from Arizona seems to yelp like a mistreated dog at almost every move the president makes. And all of those Republicans who think compromise is a four-letter word say that's Obama's fault for making extreme proposals.

Of course, they're being disingenuous. Obama could propose a chicken in every pot, and these guys would accuse him of trying to spread salmonella. That's because they have decided the election isn't over, or rather, that the next election has already begun.

The same phenomenon is being played out in Pennsylvania, where a big obstacle to compromise on a state budget is that some Republicans want to taint the next Democratic gubernatorial nominee with whatever harm comes from Gov. Rendell's failure to get a budget earlier.

Sure, there are ideological differences on whether more taxes or less spending is the best route to achieve a balanced budget. But reasonable people should be able to reach a compromise. To reach agreement, though, politics has to be put aside - and it hasn't been.

The politics is so thick, especially on national issues, that it can be hard to find the truth. In fact, much of the public's expressed fear of health-care reform is due to the prevalence of misinformation being circulated by partisan and other vested groups.

Using bad information, people are shouting about government-rationed health care and not wanting a government-run health plan. They forget that the private insurance companies already ration care, and that Medicare shows that government and good health care aren't incompatible.

But as important as health-care reform is, what's happening right now is about more than that. The partisan rancor exhibited in Washington, in Harrisburg, and at other levels across America is like a cancer that threatens to spread to the point that there is no cure.

That's a death sentence that doesn't have to happen.

Differences of opinion are the cogs and bolts that make a democracy run, so long as they are properly lubricated. Right now, there's too much friction, too much talking at each other, too much partisan posturing on issues that should be simple, like the appointment of an eminently qualified jurist for the Supreme Court.

During their break, members of Congress can expect to be rained on by the same deluge of talk-radio and blogged misinformation that pelts their constituents. But they must fight the temptation to join asinine discussions about Obama's birthplace, or whether Sonia Sotomayor is too wise a Latina, for partisan political gain.

Better is expected of elected officials who convinced voters that their decisions would be guided by truth, not by lobbyists, or campaign donations, or the TV commercials, e-mails, and slick brochures that slant the truth and dump outright lies on the public.

The politicians must do better, but they will need a push. People need to tell their elected representatives that they are tired of knee-jerk partisanship, tired of lawmakers buying into the manipulation of facts to win the next election, tired of distortions that are shaping an America moved more by fear than by reason.