Hope springs eternal. Well, OK — hope springs for an hour or two and then vanishes like a thief in the night.

On Friday morning, news organizations were gushing that President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were on the verge of cutting a deal to raise the debt ceiling and attack the federal government’s budget deficits.

By Friday afternoon, however, Boehner was telling reporters, “There was no agreement, publicly, privately, never an agreement, and frankly not close to an agreement.”

Then he offered a forecast, for the weather and for the impending debt crisis: “So I suggest it’s going to be a hot weekend here in Washington, D.C.”

As the nationwide heat wave tightened its grip on the nation’s capital, the country’s leaders surely were feeling the heat from constituents. Most Americans want Congress and the president to stop posturing and work out a viable plan to avoid the economic catastrophe that most experts say will ensue if the United States defaults on its financial obligations — a catastrophe that will occur sometime after Aug. 2 if the debt limit isn’t raised by that date.

Believe it or not, the United States of America simply can’t pay its bills without borrowing enormous sums of money. That fact alone — even without the global market turmoil and skyrocketing interest rates that would result from default — should be enough to convince Washington’s decision makers that drastic action is needed to confront the rising national debt and crippling budget deficit.

The problem is, there are too many conflicting views of what constitutes “drastic action.”

Republicans want massive spending cuts. Democrats want massive tax increases. The president, to the extent that anyone can ascertain what he wants, favors spending cuts and tax increases.

The gulf separating these competing points of view seemed as unnavigable on Friday as it had at any time in recent weeks, wild-eyed news reports of deals and near-deals notwithstanding.

Frankly, it wouldn’t bother us in the least if by the time you read this editorial, our words had been rendered obsolete by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, with or without an accompanying plan to address the long-term debt problem.

A deal that includes big budget cuts and no tax increases would be ideal, in our opinion, but we’re convinced that dealing with the debt limit is the most urgent priority at the moment. Once that’s done, there will be time to work out a debt-reduction plan.

Some Republicans — presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to name one — have suggested that all the talk about fiscal calamity if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Aug. 2 is overblown. They say the predictions of dire consequences are scare tactics designed to panic the public and intimidate House Republicans who oppose raising the debt ceiling. Maybe they’re right, but it hardly seems worth the gamble to find out.

We appreciate the Republicans’ principled stand in opposition to tax increases that would further impede economic recovery and in support of tough-minded measures to control government spending. But governing requires compromise and there’s a point where principle must give way to reality; in this dispute, that point has come and gone.

As the week turned into the weekend, it seemed painfully apparent that the people who could resolve the conflict and forestall the potential crisis seemed less interested in a solution than in lining up their appearances on today’s TV talk shows. Engaging in yet another round of political gamesmanship, however, will do nothing to hasten agreement and much to drive all those concerned farther apart.

The American people are tiring of the posturing, the slogans, the intransigence. We can hope that our so-called leaders will suddenly realize that the folks who pay their salaries are losing patience.

We can even hope that by the time you read this, the news on those Sunday morning gabfests will be that a deal has been reached to raise the debt ceiling and start reducing the debt.

But we’re not betting on it.

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