You've probably heard or read, perhaps even surmised for yourself, that partisanship is on the rise in Washington.
Partisan rancor has been blamed for the inability of Congress to compromise on a range of issues. Conversely, bipartisanship arguably has ended the careers of members such as Sen. Dick Lugar.
Partisanship is difficult to quantify, and indeed, observers have been decrying its rise since the 1980s. But legislators have had strong, partisan views for decades. In the past, however, there has been a salve to sooth disagreements, a balm to patch rough hides.
Money. Borrowed money.
For generations, when members of one party favored spending for social programs instead of defense projects, or members of the other party favored cutting taxes to create economic opportunitys over relief programs for lower-income Americans, each side could get what they wanted.
That "bipartisanship" was achieved because the federal budget does not have to be balanced. The difference between tax revenues and expenditures was added to the national debt.
Now, that debt is roughly equal, dollar for dollar, to the money that changes hands each year as part of our naton's economy. This has made the natives - and some of our financiers - increasingly nervous.
We are at (or at least getting nearer to) a point where Congress no longer can keep piling on more debt. Without the luxury of applying copious amounts of budget-deficit ointment to assuage the pain of policy differences, relations between America's two major parties are starting to rub, irritate and blister.
No matter how this plays out - whether taxes increase to fund the level of bureaucracy we have now, government programs are reduced or a combination - Americans will have fewer dollars to spend, fewer government services or both.
One way or another, austerity lies ahead; we'll see how long it lasts. Probably not as long partisanship.