The Federal Aviation Administration enforces the rules and laws that make flying safer than driving in the United States.
Its partial shutdown was brought on by squabbling in the ego capital of the world, Washington, D.C.
Capitulation by Senate Democrats has given the FAA a mere six-week extension to maintain safety and try to repair some of the damage already done.
Then, Congress will come back and put re-election as Job No. 1 and aviation safety somewhere else -- we'd guess well down the list of priorities.
This should never have come to pass in the first place.
It was and is a peculiar situation -- not unlike the budget exercise the Congress went through that left the rest of the country somewhere between disgusted and revolted.
Not that the issues in the FAA debate are without merit.
The real battle, both sides agree, is about unionization of some airline workers. Republicans want unionization made more difficult. Democrats want the present system left alone.
But the point seized upon to make the battle is whether 13 smaller towns should continue to have subsidized service.
Republicans say that taxpayers subsidize flights in and out of those cities up to the rate of $1,000 per passenger per trip.
Democrats argue that ending the subsidies will shatter those towns' economies -- and hurt whatever hopes the nation has for economic recovery.
But the true mission of the FAA is safety.
Why would members of Congress -- glorious specimens of humility that they are -- actually jeopardize lives to make a political point?
Do they really think their individual re-election is more important than trying to make sure our airplanes are safe, our air corridors are policed and our airports are up to safety specifications?
Apparently the thought has not crossed their minds.
They've gone home!
That's right, they've hustled themselves out of town to come home and brag of their accomplishments and trash any opponents silly enough to challenge them and their swollen campaign treasuries.
No one's safety is at risk, the politicians tell us, as 4,000 FAA employees were laid off and contracts across the country ground to a halt.
But aviation safety can be elusive: FAA regulations specify the number of hours crews must have between shifts in order to sleep. That seems quaint when the Republican-led House warns aviation workers their jobs are mere tokens in the great rush to re-elect conservatives.
Who sleeps through the night when unemployment looms all around?
For congressional politicians, 2012 is their next big dawn, and any price is not too great to get the same people back to Congress who served us so badly this time.
Mythologists tell us that Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and was changed into a narcotic plant.
Psychologists have a different take: Narcissism is an inordinate fixation on oneself.
Sure sounds like Congress to us.
We are aware that no less a liberal Democrat than Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The first duty of a politician is to get elected."
He did not say, however, that it was the only duty.
Americans want Congress and the president to fix the economy. They have not.
We want jobs. They are trickling in when what we need is a gusher.
Yet here is Congress taking one of the givens of American life, that our airlines are safe, and ignoring its demands so they can go home to work on getting re-elected.
Here are some tips they should have learned in the first grade: Finish your work before recess, play well with others and, possibly stretching the comparison with aviation safety a bit far, don't run with scissors.