Today is the day the federal government would have shut its door -- and its deep pockets -- if not for a stopgap spending resolution, agreed to by Republicans and Democrats to fund the government for 2 more weeks.
But don't be surprised when you wake up on March 18. Don't be surprised to discover that what had looked like the start of serious budget negotiations has turned into a mirage, a desert chimera, that looked good on paper because so many people were thirsting for a serious discussion of federal budget issues.
That's why this extension is bad news for anyone who cares about politicians finally waking up and engaging in serious discussions about long term solutions to the nation's budget deficit crisis. Right now, all we're getting is more illusions and hot air -- as if we were all in the desert suffering from heat stroke.
We're not here to draw lines in the sand;" said Sen. Republican conference chairman Lamar Alexander, "We're here to make significant reductions in spending so we can deal with a government that is collecting $2.2 trillion a year and spending $3.7 trillion a year."
But while Republicans are content to draw lines in the sand, no one is willing to dig deep and speak honestly with the American people about the most necessary cuts, the popular programs - begining with Medicare and extending to the high cost of two ongoing wars that would be required for the nation to find its way out of this wasteland.
Even for the two week extension this week, 6 House Republicans voted "no." No one knows how many more "no" votes there will be for any serious long-term deal. That's because there are 87 Tea Party inspired GOP freshman who are calling for $62 billion in spending reductions, just for the rest of this year! Those cuts include massive reductions in money for family planning -- largely taking away programs for low-income women -- cuts in education and cuts in scientific research.
White House and congressional Democrats have shown no inclination to take a budge ax to any of those programs.
The Democrats did agree to $4 billion in cuts for this week's continuing resolution and are offering another $4 billion in cuts for the rest of the year.
"We have met them halfway," said White House spokesman Jay Carney this week. But the White House must be dealing with overheated calculators if they think that $8 billion is "half way" to the $62 billion demanded by the Tea Party Republicans. That's why the two week extension is just an opportunity for both sides to point fingers and engage in more posturing rather than understanding that it's time to get serious... and grow up.
Sadly, at the moment, both sides are looking for political strategies meant to embarrass the other side and win the public opinion wars.
Speaker of the House John Boehner is trying to embarrass the Senate Democrats by asking why they have not put forward their own budget plan -- a plan separate from the White House.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is joining Boehner in a strategy that counts on Democrats who are vulnerable in their 2012 reelection bid (Ben Nelson, John Tester, Claire McCaskill and Maria Cantwell and Bill Nelson) to begin pressing the president and other Democrats to go along with the Republican demands.
McConnell's ace in the hole in that strategic game is to force a vote on the House budget bill in the Senate in order to embarrass and expose those Democrats to charges that they are part of the "tax and spend" liberal Obama team.
Even if a handful of Democrats fall victim to the Republican strategy the bill is still likely to fail. That means that the next step is more threats of more shutdowns from the GOP. All that remains after that for Republicans will be to submit additional short-term spending cuts as part of more continuing resolutions that they intend to use to embarrass Democrats.
But what happens if the Democrats don't back down? The nation will be back in the desert of the lost tribes, continuing to search for any real leadership on budget issues. More mirages, full of posturing politicians will be our only rulers.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. Click here to read his recent five part piece for Fox News Opinion on "The Children of Juarez" His most recent book is "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It."