They might be debating how to make the cost controls in the Affordable Care Act more effective, for example, or the merits of moving to a more efficient single-payer system, as every other advanced country has done.
But they're not debating this, because the federal deficit is not what this war is about.
It's about the size of government. Tea-Party Republicans (and other congressional Republicans worried about a Tea-Party challenge in their next primary) want the government to be much smaller.
"My goal," says conservative guru Grover Norquist, "is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
What's behind this zeal to shrink government? It's not that the U.S. government has suddenly become larger. In fact, non-military government spending relative to the size of the U.S. economy remains the smallest of any other rich nation.
Apart from the military, Medicare and Social Security account for almost everything else the federal government does -- and these programs continue to be hugely popular, as Republicans learn every time they threaten them.
The animus toward government has more to do with the growing frustrations of many Americans that they're not getting ahead no matter how hard they work.
Government is an easy scapegoat, utilized by much of corporate America to convince average Americans to cut taxes, spending, and regulations -- and divert attention from record-high corporate profits and concentration of income and wealth at the top.
The median wage continues to drop, adjusted for inflation, even though the economy is growing. And the share of the economy going to wages rather than to profits is the smallest on record.
Increasingly it's looked like the game is rigged, especially when people see government bailing out Wall Street (the Tea Party movement grew out of the bailout, as did the Occupiers), and handing out corporate welfare to big agriculture, big pharma, oil companies, and the insurance industry, to name but a few of the recipients.
The outrage grows when average working people are told -- falsely -- that a growing portion of Americans don't pay taxes and live off government handouts.
The battle over the fiscal cliff is over, but the trench warfare will continue.
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