As the budget summit grinds on and on, the Bush administration and congressional Democrats are again demonstrating that while they may not be able to solve problems, they certainly can create them.
The year is winding down, and now is the time when prudent taxpayers are beginning to look at their situations to see how best to arrange their affairs to minimize taxes.
Tax professionals know this and want to be cranking out advice to help the process. And the Internal Revenue Service is readying forms and instructions for next year's filing season.
But thanks to the inability of the nation's leaders to make a decision, much of this, at least to date, is simply an exercise in futility.
Have an asset to sell? Maybe rates will go up, so you'd better go ahead. Or maybe rates on capital gains will be cut, so you'd better wait.
Maybe both things will happen. And maybe they will be made effective this year. Or maybe next year. Or maybe nothing will happen.
"It's really like you're in the middle of playing a game and when you get to the end, they'll tell you what the rules are," said Greg Nelson, a tax and financial planning expert in the Washington office of Arthur Andersen & Co., a big accounting firm.
Of course, those involved in the budget summit may be able to cut a deal in the intensive negotiations that have been going on this weekend.
Chances of that have been upgraded from poor to fair in recent days as negotiators worry about appearing to undercut the troops in the Middle East.
But even if a deal is reached, legislation must still be enacted, regulations written and forms printed.
None of this will be easy. Interest groups are already gearing up protective lobbying efforts.
That will further delay the process, and if the past is any guide, it will result in even more complicated laws full of exemptions and exceptions that make regulation-writing next to impossible. And that's assuming that all the IRS's regulation-writers aren't on furlough due to a sequester.
In addition, there are other uncertainties that affect smaller numbers of people but affect them in important ways.
First, there are the so-called "extenders" that continue existing tax code provisions that otherwise expire this year.
Among these are the 25 percent deduction of medical care costs for self-employed individuals.
Current law allows self-employed people not covered by an employer-provided health care plan to deduct a quarter of the costs of their health insurance.
But that deduction expires for tax years beginning after Sept. 30 and is restricted for years beginning earlier in the calendar year.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill that extends the deduction permanently and adds tax breaks for small businesses to remodel facilities to promote access by handicapped people.
This is expected to be included in any budget reconciliation bill, but stay tuned -- in this atmosphere, anything can happen.
Another expiring provision covers workers whose employers pay school tuition on their behalf.
Current law allows the workers to exclude these payments from their taxable income, but unless the break is extended, tuition reimbursements will become taxable next year.
Likewise, employer payments for group legal services for workers may now be excluded but would become taxable income next year unless Congress acts.
For now, said Nelson, there's not much to do but sit tight as Congress and the administration play what has become an annual game of torture the taxpayer.
"It's extremely difficult to do effective tax planning when you don't know what the rules are," Nelson said.
"You just look at your crystal ball and take your best shot at it."