IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID…. I feel like it’s nearly every day that we see another story like this one, and every one of them annoys and frustrates me a little more. It’s not the reporting — which has actually been quite good — it’s the bizarre and misplaced priorities of hand-wringing congressional Democrats who’ve convinced themselves that the deficit is more important than the economy. Lori Montgomery’s front-page piece today is well worth reading.

Barely a week after President Obama tried to re-energize his push for more spending on the economy, his agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill, mired in election-year anxiety about the deficit.

Congress has delivered only about a quarter of the $266 billion in “temporary recovery measures” the president sought in his February budget request and ignored much of the rest. There is unlikely to be another “recovery” check for Social Security recipients. Come December, Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit — the signature initiative he regularly touts as a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans — will probably be gone.

Even the state aid that Obama last week called critical to preventing the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other government workers is foundering. After days of talks, frustrated Democratic leaders in the Senate failed again Thursday to muster the 60 votes needed to approve the cash and left town for the weekend with no clear path forward.

If Congress doesn’t provide additional stimulus spending, economists inside and outside the administration warn that the nation risks a prolonged period of high unemployment or, more frightening, a descent back into recession. But a competing threat — the exploding federal budget deficit — seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters.

Read that last paragraph again — lawmakers actually seem to believe that voters will be happier with prolonged unemployment and a weaker economy, just so long as the deficit doesn’t go up.

Look, I’m well aware of Democrats’ election anxieties and the fear of “big spender” attacks ads. It’s hardly a secret what Republicans are going to say in their campaign pitch: Dems have spent too much and they’ve failed to lower the deficit. The message as a substantive matter, is ridiculous — GOP policymakers got us into this mess, left a $1.3 trillion deficit for Dems to clean up, and begged Obama for stimulus money to help the economy in their districts — but that’s the shpiel. Voters will either be persuaded or they won’t.

The question is what Dems will have to show for their legislative efforts. They made the investments necessary to rescue the economy from its free fall, but they’re losing their nerve before the economy is secure. Why any nervous politician in his/her right mind thinks the majority party will be rewarded for a weaker economy is a question I can’t begin to answer.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.