So this is what it has come to, running the federal government seven weeks at a time.

So this is what it has come to, running the federal government seven weeks at a time.


The latest budget band-aid has Congress assuring that Uncle Sam will have money to operate until Nov. 18 following the Senate's approval of a so-called "compromise" measure to keep disaster relief flowing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reportedly had been down to its last $114 million following an uncommonly busy year for disasters - from coastal hurricanes and earthquakes to Midwestern tornadoes and floods to Texas wildfires -with the money expected to run out late next week, until this apparent deal materialized. It wasn't so much a case of both sides budging as a change in understanding of how much money was left and how long it would take to run through it, making the issue moot.


True to form, Republicans in the House had drawn their line in the sand, insisting that any additional dollars approved for disaster relief - or for anything - be absorbed by cuts elsewhere, specifically to alternative energy programs favored by Democrats. And true to form, Democrats found themselves voting against spending - in this case $3.65 billion worth - on something they initially supported because, as usual, it wasn't enough. Such snits, typical of a junior high school playground, now are run of the mill on Capitol Hill.


And caught in the middle were the none-too-pleased victims of these storms, who have discovered that there is nothing beyond politicization today, not even acts of God, and no fate too terrible to tempt, be it government shutdown or default on the nation's debt or a Wall Street crash. No longer is the nation governed by Americans, but by Republicans and Democrats who have concluded that their greater allegiance must belong to their respective parties. If the parties had flags, one depicting a donkey, the other an elephant, no doubt the Stars and Stripes would fly just slightly below them.


As with the debt ceiling fiasco, holding disaster aid hostage was again pretty much unprecedented. No one is pretending that every last dollar of disaster relief is spent wisely. Most damage to personal property should be between Americans and their insurance companies, and running to government should not automatically be anyone's first resort. But when the road or bridge to your home has been washed out, or the power grid badly compromised, or the levees destroyed, or any of the catastrophically bad things that can happen when hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes hit, fixing those and doing so quickly are by and large beyond the capabilities of any institution but government. Those unpredictable, terrible things can happen to anybody. There but for the grace of God go I. It's the seemingly callous disregard for that, the lousy timing and the methods used to provide the exclamation marks to their arguments that make Congress' behavior so infuriating, not the debate itself over how much and how it's spent.


This was the second significant government shutdown debate of the last few months. No one should be surprised if those continue on the order of one every two months - at least until they all return home to do their campaigning - from now until Nov. 6, 2012.


In public opinion polls, disapproval ratings of Congress are now routinely over 80 percent. That's understandable. Its members have earned it.


Peoria Journal Star