After the deal on the debt ceiling, both parties abandoned the attempt to govern the country and instead attacked each other relentlessly for more than a year. The 2012 election, though hard fought, did more to obscure than to clarify the choices we face. And the outcome of the election didn’t resolve those choices one way or the other. While President Obama won reelection and Senate Democrats expanded their majority by two seats, the voters left the House of Representatives under Republican control, with a majority only modestly reduced from its huge gains of November 2010.

The parties remain both deeply divided and closely divided. Neither can simply impose its will on the other, and neither is likely to surrender. To be sure, politicians can try to calculate who has a short-term tactical advantage, but that won’t tell them much about the long-term political consequences of failing to reach an agreement. To resolve the fiscal debate, the parties will have to negotiate seriously and in good faith, and they will have to compromise. …

Since then, however, optimism has faded, although Boehner on Monday offered up a counter to the president’s initial proposal. It’s incremental progress to be sure, which is not unexpected for negotiations, but still no one can rule out the possibility that we’ll end up going over the cliff. While it’s hard to calculate the consequences of failure, they could turn out to be grave.