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Editorial | Congress

Nothing, or worse

Another year, another "do-nothing" Congress. The only thing that has changed is the party in power.

After spending most of the last 10 years in the minority, the Democrats took control of Congress in January with great fanfare. But on most issues ranging from war policy to health care, the new Congress has been more talk than walk. Lawmakers are two months late on the most basic task: passing annual spending bills to fund government operations.

Failing to meet basic goals is bad enough. But this Congress could actually create more problems through inaction, as millions of tax filers may soon learn.

Congress' failure to approve a temporary solution to the alternative minimum tax will likely delay early tax refunds for millions of taxpayers.

Until lawmakers agree on how to fix the problem, the IRS can't prepare tax forms and computer programs for the 2008 filing season.

Without a temporary correction by Congress, more than 20 million taxpayers could be forced to pay tax increases averaging $3,000 under the AMT. The higher tax would hit an estimated 1.5 million taxpayers in New Jersey and 837,000 in Pennsylvania.

In previous years, the Republican-led Congress simply borrowed tens of billions of dollars to ensure that these upper-middle-class households would avoid the higher tax. That Wimpy "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" mindset contributes to deficits irresponsibly. House Democratic leaders wisely decided that spending increases on items such as the AMT must be offset with tax increases elsewhere, to stop adding to deficits.

Republicans in the Senate, however, say they will block tax increases to pay for the AMT. That strategy is short-sighted. The choices should be either to shift taxes to another source or cut spending. The AMT is a costly problem that shouldn't be added to the debt of the next generation of taxpayers. Too much debt has been piled on them in the past six years as it is.

One of the few legislative achievements in Washington this year, an expansion of the federal children's health insurance program, was vetoed by President Bush. On other issues, such as the war in Iraq and immigration, this Congress has nothing to show for its year in power. On the war, in fact, House Democrats nearly did worse than nothing by angering ally Turkey with a pointless vote on century-old atrocities against Armenians.

The Republican-led Congress was too often a rubberstamp for Bush. New Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) talk a good game but so far have produced very little.

With the 2008 election looming, the Democratic majority in Congress may find voters looking for leaders who can get results.