The good news is that Congress has settled on a debt deal. The bad news is that it took so much anguish to accomplish so little.
Any deal is better than none at all, of course, but the numbers show what a minor impact this proposal will have on our long-term debt problem.
The Congressional Budget Office says the federal government will spend $46 trillion over the next decade. This deal cuts slightly less than $1 trillion from discretionary spending over that time.
When a country borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends, that's simply not enough.
What remains completely untouched is the real problem — entitlement spending, which is a code word for the care and support of old and poor Americans through Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
What's been done so far, after months of haggling and hand-wringing, will cut about 3 percent from federal spending, still adding more than $7 trillion to the deficit between now and 2011.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, D-South Carolina, said this of the package: "We're no longer running toward oblivion, we're walking toward it."
The dubious gimmick in this debt deal is a "trigger" mechanism that requires a task force of congressmen to find another $1.2 billion in cuts over the next four months.
If that fails, which seems likely in the run-up to next year's elections, automatic cuts will be made to Medicare, Medicaid and defense spending.
Maine might be particularly hard hit as the oldest state in the country and with its dependence on Bath Iron Works and Navy shipbuilding.
The history of Medicare/Medicaid cutting has not be reassuring. Medical providers have tended to increase the prices paid by private insurers to offset federal program cuts. Hospitals already complain that Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements do not cover the cost of services provided.
When cost-shifting occurs, private companies tend to reduce benefits or drop their insurance plans entirely.
So, in the end, working Americans are simply left paying for the care of elderly and poor Americans, just out of a different pocket.
What we've largely done in the U.S. is outsource the care of the elderly to the federal government through Medicare. This has largely relieved American families of the cost of caring for their very elderly parents and grandparents.
Simply cutting Medicare would shift that end-of-life cost burden back to American families, which they will neither enjoy nor tolerate for long.
It's hard to believe that more attention is not being paid to actually reducing the cost of medical services.
The decision locally by St. Mary's Regional Medical Center to open a satellite office in the local Walmart, and post prices for services, is a small example of the type of creative thinking required.
In the end, however, it will take a variety of approaches to solve this problem, from means-testing for benefits to eliminating tax loopholes and even raising taxes.
As much as we hate to say it, this debt/spending/tax struggle has only just begun.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.