There was a sorry scene in the U.S. Senate last week which clearly showed why Congress is unlikely to ever do anything about the federal deficit.

The proposal before the Senate was simple: to create a special deficit-reduction commission with powers similar to the military base-closing commissions.

The value of such commissions is that they force Congress and the president to do things they are incapable of doing on their own, such as closing a base in another member’s district. In other words, they take the really tough but important work away from people who have shown themselves unable to do it.

Only hours after learning that we will add $1.35 trillion to our existing $12.4 billion federal deficit, the Senate solidly voted down the debt-commission idea, 53-46.

Why? Democrats feared they would be forced to cut popular social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, and would then have to face the wrath of their base voters.

Republicans, meanwhile, feared they would be forced to raises taxes, and would have to face the wrath of their base voters.

So, the measure failed. The gridlock continued.

The response of Maine’s congressional delegation to this proposal was instructive.

The veterans in Congress — Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud — supported the idea, recognizing that Congress has failed for 40 years to solve this riddle.

The relative newcomer to Maine’s congressional delegation, Chellie Pingree, opposed the debt-commission idea. Making tough cost-control decisions “is the role of Congress,” she told the Portland Press Herald for a story.

And, in a textbook sort of way, she is right. Unfortunately, Congress threw that textbook out years ago.

We always wonder about voters who regularly complain that their elected representatives in Washington don’t listen to them. The problem is just the opposite — they listen so well that they ultimately come to reflect the contradictions and irrationality of the American people.

And our consistent message to Congress over the past 40 years has been the same — cut my taxes and give me more programs.

I want to pay lower taxes, but I want two wars. I want lower taxes, but I want Social Security. I want lower taxes, but I want subsidies for farmers. I want lower taxes, but I also want poor people to eat and have medical care. The list is endless.

And, yes, we’re talking about Republicans and Democrats here. Red Staters and Blues. While both parties like cutting taxes, neither has a stomach for cutting programs or services that benefit their constituents.

This will all end badly, of course, and most of us sense that, even the members of Congress.

The debt-commission panel would likely have brought a real budget-deficit solution, but one that would have required some pain and sacrifice for all — the old and young, the rich and poor, corporations and workers, taxpayers and welfare moms.

Some day, we will all have to pay more or receive less, and that would be the price for living within our national means.

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