Will we one day look back at 2011 as the year it became painfully clear that our leaders in Congress cannot be trusted with the most fundamental of tasks and that the country pays a dear price for that?

Will we one day look back at 2011 as the year it became painfully clear that our leaders in Congress cannot be trusted with the most fundamental of tasks and that the country pays a dear price for that?

Congress has always been a place for bare-knuckled, partisan politics, and that’s fine, but there comes a time when the fiery rhetoric needs to give away to sober judgment about governing. Make your point, let the other side make its, then vote and abide by the outcome.

But in an era in which the campaigning never ends, that mature approach to governing continues to dissolve. This year Congress concocted one crisis after another for the sake of politics, threatening repeatedly to shut down the government.

Just last week, Congress was struggling to find a way to extend a temporary reduction of payroll taxes, a move to put a little more cash in consumers’ hands and nudge the economy forward. The House and Senate for some time were unable to pass something that all sides said they wanted.

Then all they came up with was a two-month extension. Is this any way to write tax policy? Presumably in January or February Congress extend it for the year, but who knows? And think of headaches for the employers who might or might not have to recalculate those paycheck deductions.

Can Congress find its way toward the larger issues, such as how long the country can sensibly afford this temporary, two-year tax break now into its third year? Or the even larger question about the temporary, 10-year Bush-era tax cuts already extended to 12 years.

Not only can Congress not do what it says it wants to do without comic difficulty, it cannot keep past promises about past feel-good tax decisions that have plunged the nation into an unconscionable, unsustainable level of budget deficits. The nation faces tough decisions, but Washington keeps kicking the can down the road – and now Congress has difficulty doing even that.