Seen through that lens, what happens between now and when the clock strikes midnight tonight won’t really matter all that much. The die is cast. For the average person, Congress’s using every second — literally — of its allotted time (and maybe more than its allotted time) to find a deal will be chalked up as another in a series of failures by Washington.

And if the fallout for Congress is anything like what we saw in the wake of the debt-ceiling debacle, you can expect what has already been a dismal run in terms of the institution’s political popularity to get even worse.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) hit it on the head Sunday when he took to the Senate floor to lambaste his colleagues for their failure to act. “It is absolutely inexcusable that all of us find ourselves in this place at this time … with no plan and no apparent hope,” said Manchin.

No matter what happens in these final hours, Manchin’s sentiment seems certain to mirror the American public’s view of Congress and the fiscal cliff. Failure seems not to be an option but the only one.