Anyone else who did a job this badly would be fired. But in Congress, the inability to get anything done seems to be a form of job security.

That's apparent in the quagmire that passes for debate over the national debt ceiling. And it's also sadly evident in the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Our elected representatives, who have been unable to agree to long-term funding for the FAA since 2007, have now reached a point where they cannot even figure out a way to pass a short-term funding extension for the agency that oversees air safety.

So - unbelievably - FAA funding expired on July 22 and 4,000 employees were furloughed, 640 of them at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township.

Many of those local FAA employees were working on NextGen, the air traffic control system that promises to make air travel safer and more efficient. And as the FAA shutdown dragged on into this week, its effects spread to private contractors. Local firms who work at the tech center have received stop-work orders. They've had to furlough their own employees, some of whom will only get paid if they take vacation time.

In addition, FAA projects worth $44.7 million throughout the state have been delayed, including work at the Hammonton, Millville, Ocean City and Cape May County airports. Grants have been held up because the employees who process them are furloughed.

So what caused all this? An argument over union elections, among other relatively small issues.

A long-term funding bill for the FAA passed by the Republican-controlled House earlier this year included language to overturn a National Mediation Board decision that changed the way union organizing efforts at airlines would be decided. The Democrats who control the Senate refused to pass a bill with that provision. Republicans refused to consider one without it.

Whatever the particulars of this dispute, it is simply outrageous that members of Congress would put an ideological argument above the important work the FAA does.

An argument over union voting rules is more important than air safety? More important than improving our air traffic system?

And how, as our nation sluggishly continues to try to recover from the recession, can you throw 4,000 FAA employees, and an unknown number of contractors, out of work?

They are all just victims of the current political climate, where an inability to compromise has become an inability to govern.