A Metro train in the Forest Glen station in Maryland. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

ON THE very morning Metro subway passengers were facing an unusually hellish commute — damaged insulators were the culprit in single-tracking and delays running 45 minutes on the Red Line, the system’s busiest — Congress added insult to injury by holding a hearing on Washington’s transit woes in which posturing, grandstanding and axe-grinding took center stage.

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) said he would present Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld with a personal “certificate of appreciation” for firing 20 Metro managers and supervisors recently. (Mr. Wiedefeld said he took no pleasure in the firings.) His next move, Mr. Mica said, would be drafting legislation to privatize the entire Metro system.

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), whose district includes Disney World, declared that the theme park’s rail system never breaks down. Metro should be “more like the Disney monorail,” Mr. Webster said helpfully.

Then there was Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who offered the suspect observation that Metro’s tracks catch fire more often than Great Smoky Mountains National Park, part of which is in his district.

To his credit, Mr. Wiedefeld, who has run the transit agency for six months, declined to be drawn into the largely irrelevant ruminations of these House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members on Tuesday. He laid out the steps he is taking to pull the subway system together, while repeatedly reminding the committee that Metro, the nation’s only major transit agency that lacks a dedicated source of funding, could use one.

That point was ignored by all of the committee’s Republicans, several of whom seemed to suggest that Metro, which faces billions of dollars in medium- and long-term needs, is in fact overfunded.

No doubt, management shortcomings have played a starring role in Metro’s mounting problems, as indicated by the bungled responses to dangerous and lethal mishaps that occur with increasing frequency. Throwing money at Metro will not fix its problems, but pretending Metro can address them without an adequate, long-term and reliable revenue flow ignores the reality of how a transit system works.

It was reasonable of some committee members to zero in on Metro’s labor costs, which Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) suggested are higher than the prevailing local wage. Metro is in the process of negotiating a new union contract, which will affect the agency’s cost structure in the coming years.

Ms. Comstock was right to press the system to be frugal and to enlist outside contractors when possible if that results in cost savings. However, there is little Congress can do to affect the conduct or outcome of Metro’s labor negotiations, which, in the event of impasse, will be settled by binding arbitration.

The real challenge, as Mr. Wiedefeld noted repeatedly, is focusing Metro more intensively on safety and customer service. In that, he seems to be making the right moves — improving training; firing managers, which sends the message that accountability is critical to Metro’s mission; ordering an intensive (and, unfortunately, highly disruptive) track maintenance blitz; and overhauling the Rail Operations Control Center, the subway system’s nerve center. Also welcome, if belated in the wake of reports of the horrifying rape of a woman on a Red Line train, is the commitment finally to report crime in a timely way.

Yet even if Mr. Wiedefeld’s prescriptions are perfect, Metro will not be able to right itself without help, rather than carping, from the District, Maryland, Virginia — and Congress.