Just like the debt ceiling debate this summer, brinksmanship is a hallmark of the related “supercommittee” negotiations on budget reduction. This time, the committee either carefully carves $1.2 trillion from future federal spending or accepts an across-the-board sequestration of that amount, which takes a bite out of every federal budget category—including $600 billion from the military.

So, while several congressional types say sequestration is too painful to contemplate, it appears negotiating an alternative may prove even more excruciating. Democratic and Republican leaders have begun telling colleagues they believe the supercommittee will fail to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, setting up the 2012 elections as a fight for the country’s “heart and soul.”

A definitive election, if that is possible given the near even split in American attitudes about the country’s direction, may be the only way to resolve the deep partisan divide that repeatedly prevents Congress from fixing the country’s financial problems.  

A sense of pessimism replaced earlier optimism that occurred when House Republican leaders began preparing their caucus to accept a deficit deal with new tax revenues and Senate Democrats put some entitlements on the table. Things unraveled soon afterward, however.  

It began when Democrats acknowledged they could not unite around a $2.2 billion counter offer made by some of their party’s supercommittee companions. “Well, you know, that is a Democrat’s plan. It’s not the Democratic plan. There are six Democrats on this committee, and though I have a great deal of admiration and respect for all of them, the fact of the matter is, Democrats have not coalesced around a plan” said South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, a supercommittee member and member of the House Democratic leadership.  

Immediately, attention shifted to a $4 trillion package developed by the Senate’s Gang of Six—which includes Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss. This bipartisan group has worked over a year to assemble a proposal to bridge the gap. This week they announced a significant break-through that was immediately embraced by House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle. Whether it has the votes is still uncertain. Rare Agreement: In contrast to the budget talks, Congress did agree on one spending measure this week. The Senate followed the lead of the House on Thursday, easily passing a 2012 “minibus” spending bill that funds several agencies and is the first budget bill to pass the Senate in more than three years. It also contains a continuing spending resolution keeping the government running through December 16. The legislation heads to the president for a signature.