After the briefest of breaks from hostilities, they're back to abnormal in the capital. That means a return to the customary bickering, backbiting, and bluster.
Anyone who expected the compromise over the debt ceiling this week to create a kinder, gentler atmosphere among lawmakers will be sorely disappointed. The flashpoint today is a furor over the Federal Aviation Administration. Democrats and Republicans have gotten themselves into another ideological grudge match over funding, and the result is that money hasn't been approved to keep all the FAA's functions in operation. As a result, many employees are doing their jobs without pay and construction at airports has stopped, idling more than 70,000 other workers.
The Democrats and Republicans are in the familiar position of pointing fingers at each other. At the center of the dispute is by Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who objects to the FAA funding legislation because he said it would give too much power to unions by making it easier for them to organize. Mica added that Senate Democrats were "blaming everyone but themselves" for the impasse. But Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said Mica and other opponents were being unfair to innocent workers caught in the middle of the dispute. "It's an anti-worker agenda which is driving them [the Republicans]" Rockefeller said. Added Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California: "Here we are, another made-up crisis by the Republicans." She called it "government by hostage taking." President Obama also weighed in, criticizing the impasse as another situation where Congress "decided to play politics." But his aides admitted that there appeared to be little he could do about it unilaterally, and Congress is now on summer vacation.
There appears to be no imminent threat to public safety, but pollsters say this is exactly the kind of nasty standoff that turns the public off to politics and undermines faith in government. It's also a sign that the parties will give no quarter as they jockey for advantage in the 2012 campaign. It looks like it will be a very long 15 months until Election Day.