WASHINGTON -- It's become a familiar Tuesday ritual: Another member of Congress loses his bid for re-nomination, and incumbents in Washington shudder -- and get more timid about taking politically risky votes on economic matters.
That's making it hard for the increasingly fractured House Democratic caucus, which has an overwhelming majority, to complete even the most routine matters.
That then calls into question how soon, if at all, lawmakers can approve more funding for the war in Afghanistan and for thousands who've lost jobless benefits lately, let alone tackle the nation's ballooning debt.
Last week, the political victim was Rep. Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, who fell hard as opponent Trey Gowdy got 71 percent of the vote. Inglis, a six-term veteran, was the third House member to lose a bid for re-nomination this year; two senators have been defeated.
That's an unusually high toll, with more primaries to come, and legislative survivors are hearing a clear message.
"The American people are not happy with incumbents across the board, and the election could come down to how we individualize these races," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut.
That means voting one's district as never before, and in a House in which Democrats control 255 of the 435 seats and represent a wide variety of districts, it's hard to find common ground on Capitol Hill.
The resulting paralysis sends the kind of message that no incumbent wants, though.
"It gets to competence and whether you can govern," said Merle Black, a professor of politics and government at Emory University in Atlanta.
In the meantime, Republicans have gained political traction by hammering away at Democrats as being too eager to spend. GOP lawmakers gleefully point out that for the first time since the 1974 budget law went into effect, House leaders had no plans to vote on a budget outline, which usually includes the majority party's five-year plan for reducing deficits.
Instead, Democratic leaders said they'd push for a vote on a one-year plan that would spend less than President Barack Obama proposed, but liberals had other thoughts: trimming defense costs. Democrats are divided over that, too.
The Senate passed a $58.8 billion bill last month to pay for the Afghan war, as well as other emergencies, but House Democratic budget writers wanted to add $23 billion to help states pay education costs. Some also want to cast a vote that expresses lawmakers' views on the war.
"We have to stop to evaluate -- to re-evaluate -- what's happening in Afghanistan," said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
The schism is hardly new. Earlier this year, 60 House Democrats voted for a resolution calling on Obama to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.