- - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Christmas lights usually signal a season of goodwill. But in Washington, they’re more like the check-engine light on a dashboard, warning that time to fix the nation’s finances is running out. Before the holidays give way to a new year, critical decisions on tax reform and budget levels must be made. The capital Christmas rush features a deathly struggle between congressional Republicans and their Democratic nemeses. Failure to reach a resolution would produce the sort of gloom that suffuses Charles Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Senate teeters on tenterhooks this week as Republicans attempt to enact their version of tax reform and reconcile it with the House bill in time for a year-end signing ceremony. Lower taxes for corporations and most individuals lie at the center of President Trump’s economic revival blueprint, and the stock market will likely soar if he succeeds, and plummet if it doesn’t. A razor-thin Republican majority leaves the Senate outcome on a knife’s edge.

At the same time, the temporary spending deal the president reached with Democrats in September expires Dec. 8, making the specter of a yuletide government shutdown as ominous as Jacob Marley’s ghost. Afraid of refusing alms for the poor and privileged alike, Republicans have not learned to play the game well, and typically weaken and give in to the opposition party’s demands for more, more, more.

A budget deal to carry the nation through fiscal 2018 is thus on the capital Christmas list. The president is pressing for an additional $54 billion to help the Pentagon refit its forces following years of overwork and underfunding, with new challenges posed by Iran’s aggressive troublemaking in the Middle East and North Korea’s nuclear aggression in Asia, emphasized only Tuesday with a new missile test to intimidate North Asia. Democrats have turned up their noses at an offer of $37 billion for their pet projects, refusing anything less than a dollar-for-dollar match.

Mr. Trump is dealing with a unique brand of greed and obstructionism, one not found in the world of real estate and construction that he learned to dominate. The current crop of Democrats are ideologues dyed-in-the-wool, which is why they haunt the halls of Congress rather than the canyons of New York. As if not interested in erecting a prosperous nation, they labor to institute the Marxist model that instructs, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

It’s the metastasis of politics that has engendered a crop of political philosophers who move easily from private school to the Ivy League to Congress without having to taste the fruit of their modern liberalism. The Founders lived in an age of necessity, when immersion in delusion guaranteed ruin for everyone. George Washington was a surveyor and soldier, Thomas Jefferson a farmer, Benjamin Franklin a printer and inventor. They all understood how the world works.

Mr. Trump twists aims to win votes for his tax reform agenda, and Democrats only complain that tax cuts would add $1.4 trillion to the deficit. They rationalize resisting the president’s deal-making overtures, and block his agenda at every opportunity. Goading Trump-averse Republicans into defeating tax reform, they reckon, is the single quickest way to turn the electorate against the Grand Old Party and regain their own lost majority. An attempt to impeach the president would surely follow.

The Christmas quarrel over the nation’s finances and future is as heartbreaking as the sight of Tiny Tim’s empty chair. Unless Democrats forswear their opposition to the common good, a dismal destiny will be more than a bad dream on a long winter’s night.

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