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Therein lies some hope for compromise. A leading option: placing a cap, or limit, on the federal outlays that are determined by Congress each year. This so-called discretionary spending does not include big-ticket items such as Medicare and Social Security. But it is a start and will slow the swelling debt in a noticeable way.

Watch that idea grow in both political parties as the president gets closer to submitting his own spending proposals in February.

But to make major progress on the fiscal situation, a crisis probably would have to rock the globe. No one wants that, of course. But recent woes in Ireland and Portugal make such a calamity a real threat.

Such a crisis could well force the kind of grand bargain that budget hawks have been seeking for years. The GOP would have no choice but to agree to tax increases, and the Democrats would have to accept a smaller and less insistent government.

But until such a worldwide reversal, not much can - or will - happen in Washington.

Lawmakers won’t be able to fulfill their election promises and, eventually, will incur the voters’ wrath. Another wave election, formerly a once-a-decade occurrence, will sweep the capital in short order. Majorities will flip again.

How can this be avoided? Maybe the warring camps can talk compromise before they face an economic disaster. It may not be as entertaining, but a little moderation could benefit the country and save a lot of lawmakers’ jobs.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.