While attention has focused House Republicans' Braveheart moment of marshalling an army to push through a debt-ceiling bill, it's instructive to consider the actions of Kentucky's senators during this debate.
Hope now focuses on the Senate to fashion a bipartisan agreement by Tuesday that lets America pay its already-approved financial obligations. And the roles our senators play reflect the challenges ahead.
Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, has denounced House Republican efforts to reach a consensus, which required some Tea Party conservatives to put the nation's financial future over their political ideology. He participated in a Tea Party rally near the Capitol Wednesday in support of a debt-ceiling plan that mandates a balanced-budget amendment. That plan passed the House recently, but the Republican leadership knew it would be rejected by the Senate.
Paul is also taking advantage of the debate by raising money for his campaign coffers. "Deals are being cut or discussed nearly every day in Washington. Deals that will bring us more debt and economic destruction. Deals that abdicate congressional authority over spending and debt," he wrote on behalf of the Campaign for Liberty.
Of course, it's a lot easier for the freshman to play the role of political outsider because he has not had the challenge of voting on a debt-ceiling deal yet.
But some kind of compromise — with other Republicans and with Democrats — is inevitable. Already 51 Democrats and two independents in the Senate have said they would not support the House plan. Financial experts say the plan could lead to a downgrade of the nation's stellar credit rating because it proposes to repeat this political fight in six months.
That's why it is encouraging that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is having back-channel discussions with Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on fashioning a compromise. Reid's bill would cut more money and raise the debt ceiling until the end of 2012, but it may not get the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
McConnell has already been attacked by conservatives and Democrats for his earlier proposal for a three-step increase in the debt ceiling before the 2012 election. It was mostly a political strategy to weaken President Barack Obama, but he did acknowledge the urgency of a debt-ceiling increase at a time when many Republican politicians were discounting it.
He pushed that point again, along with the reality that compromise was needed, at a Tuesday meeting with Senate Republicans. "We cannot get a perfect solution, controlling only the House of Representatives," he said.
McConnell is not aiming to be another Great Compromiser, of course. He is responding to Wall Street and other corporate donors who want the debt ceiling raised and some stability in the nation's finances. And he has warned that Republicans could get the brunt of voter frustration over the parties' inability to work together.
For Kentuckians, the next few days will tell a lot about our senators — each influential in different ways — and how they decide to serve their constituents and the nation.