All that Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wanted was to smash a few windows, flood some streets, and uproot an old tree here or there. But now they may indirectly end up shutting down the federal government, too! This really is a banner year for the forces of evil.

Yes, we may be facing the third installment of government shutdown brinksmanship this year, following the spring appropriations battle and the considerably more embarrassing and threatening debt ceiling showdown this summer. The current episode seems the least likely to produce the shutdown, since the size of the disagreement is much smaller. But it's a sticky one and this Congress is terrible, so.

Let's explain the slightly complicated situation. The government funding deal that was struck this spring runs out at the end of September, with the new fiscal year starting October 1. Congress is behind on the budget bills it needs to pass, so it hopes to pass a temporary resolution funding the government at current levels through mid-November. Leaders of both parties would like to include additional disaster relief funding in the temporary measure. Democrats want about $7 billion in disaster relief with no offsets; Republicans would like $3.65 billion with a partial offset of about $1-$1.5 billion in cuts to a program that subsidizes loans to car companies for manufacturing fuel-efficient vehicles. There's your gridlock that's holding up an agreement on government funding past September 30th! And since Congress plans to go on vacation — sorry, a "district work period" — next week, they'd prefer to work out this disagreement in the next few days.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans each have a bill, and each side is rejecting the other's plan and promising never to cave. And now we're seeing the first wave of "if there's a government shutdown, it's the other guy's fault" ass-covering, too! From the Washington Post:

"No one's intending to bring about a government shutdown here," [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor said. "I think the country's sort of seen enough of that. The two sides have demonstrated a real difference as far as cutting spending is concerned. We're going to try to focus on where we can come together, pass the (measure) and continue to focus on the job creation that is so desperately needed."

Even so, Cantor argued that if the funding battle were to be brought to the brink, "it'll be on Leader Reid's shoulders, because he's the one playing politics with it."

And here we were, thinking that the damage from Hurricane Irene wasn't as bad as expected. And that was true! It was only that bad in completely unexpected ways.

[Image via AP]