Paul Greenberg

How long is this show going to go on in Washington, and must it? They say closing time for its costars is midnight, December 31. That's when the president and the speaker of the House need to agree on the federal budget Or Else, but politicians never met a deadline they couldn't postpone, as in Can, Kick Down the Road.

This year's burlesque is turning into a melodrama (working title: Meltdown) as both sides steer the country right over the dreaded (cue scary music) Fiscal Cliff! Thelma and Louise, here we come. The Mayans couldn't have written a scarier doomsday scenario into their calendar, and this one is about as convincing.

The country is supposed to be petrified as the witching hour approaches without an agreement on the federal budget, all those reviving Bush tax cuts end, and "automatic" cuts go into place for every federal entity, including the Army and Navy. Not since the Perils of Pauline has there been such a production. And it's about as tough to take this farce seriously.

For the moment John Boehner and Barack Obama trade places before the camera as each plays his latest card in this high-stakes game of bluff, bluster and general bombast. Both rate an Oscar even if their script deserves a great big national yawn. (Some of us are old enough to have seen this show before.)

The speaker unveiled his Plan B to great fanfare. It was supposed to meet and raise the president's bid -- a demand that tax rates rise for the wealthiest Americans, which Mr. Obama defines as those making more than $200,000 a year. (Or $250,000 for couples.) This might come as news to a lot of owners of small businesses who file as individual taxpayers, but the president says they're filthy rich and deserve to be punished for it. That's the important thing, you see, not whether taxing away capital would be good or bad for a still ailing economy.

The speaker came back with his Plan B (for Bluff?) by offering to raise rates on those taxpayers who make a milliion a year. Although at last report he couldn't even get his own caucus to approve so transparent a dodge. And so this game of Texas Hold 'Em goes on as the few still watching stifle a yawn and drift away -- which would seem the most sensible response to Mr. Boehner's latest dud. Plan B's fate may stay in the headlines for a whole other 24 hours before the next counterbid arrives from the White House. If any does.

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Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.