The five staffers struggled for a week. In my files is a one-page, typed document dated Oct. 23, 2011, showing that they essentially reached agreement. The Republicans had a total deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion and the Democrats had $1.24 trillion — a difference of $40 billion, not much.

Some staffers were ready to break out the champagne. They had a pipeline straight to the leadership in both parties. But the members of the supercommittee did not trust each other. Instead of adopting the staff agreement or a version of it, they decided to go big and craft a deficit-reduction package of up to $3 trillion. They were shooting for a “grand bargain.”

The record shows they overreached: The mandatory cuts of $110 billion were not forestalled; the Biden-McConnell agreement has postponed them, but only for two months.

Over those two months, the leaders cannot be detached or indifferent, but they may need to get out of the way and let their able staff, working with bipartisan empowerment, come up with a plan