The foibles of Congress are usually good for a laugh, but some people don't find the current budget fiasco quite so funny.

Is Congress completely incompetent? Not at all. They are very competent at what they do best - politicking.The congressional Democrats have completely outmaneuvered the Bush administration politically on the deficit issue. First they suckered the president into giving up his "no new taxes" pledge - his ace in the hole, politically - and they have given him nothing in return except a vague promise of spending cuts, a promise that has already proved worthless.

Congress has suckered the public and the media even more. By sheer reiteration, Democrats have created the political myth that the multitrillion dollar federal deficit originated somewhere else besides Congress - even though Congress alone votes all spending and all taxes.

The media have been all too willing to go along with the notion that we have a "Reagan debt" caused by "tax cuts for the rich." In reality, the federal government received hundreds of billions more tax dollars annually during the Reagan administration than ever before. That is because the gross national product grew by nearly 80 percent over the eight years when Ronald Reagan was president.

Uncle Sam's cut was a slightly lower percentage, but the pie itself was much bigger. That was the whole point of "supply-side economics."

Then why is the national debt now at an all-time high, measured in trillions of dollars, instead of mere billions as before? Because Congress spent even more hundreds of billions of billions than the massive new tax receipts pouring into Washington. Without spending restraints, no amount of new taxes will ever balance the budget.

Republican "fiscal conservatives" have played right into the hands of the free-spending Democrats by adding to the hysteria over the budget deficit and joining in the call for higher taxes. For years the Democrats have played Santa Claus, while the Republicans played "enforcers" sent to collect from the taxpayers.

Congressional election returns have proved, time and again, for decades on end, that Santa Claus is more popular than any tax collector.

The grand fallacy of the fiscal conservatives is to say that we are "undertaxed" because we are unwilling to pay for all the government programs we have voted for. But this ignores the crucial role of prices.

What we all "want" or "need" always vastly exceeds what is available. When prices in the marketplace convey the cost of satisfying these wants or needs, we discover that we can do without a lot of things and economize on others. In short, we make the best of our inherently limited options.

But when the government offers to satisfy us more fully, either free or at subsidized prices, obviously we take the goodies. Paying for them later out of a general tax, unrelated to specific usage of benefits, accomplishes nothing economically. Politically, it just disguises the waste by allowing some bureaucrat's books to balance.

Budget summits are great for the media and for others who like political melodrama. Their only real effect is to panic the public into accepting higher taxes. That means accepting the notion that none of the bloodsuckers can be weaned from the federal treasury, while there is no limit to how much the taxpayers can be drained.

Election Day would be a good time to express a dissenting opinion.