"Government shutdown looms," blare the headlines and news anchors as Congress lurches toward another stalemate over how to spend tax dollars.
Before you wonder about that Social Security check or selling off your stock portfolio in advance of a possible market crash, consider a couple of political realities in the current debate over spending, Obamacare and the economy.
First, there is a week to go before the deadline for Congress to either authorize more government spending for a new fiscal year that begins October 1 or trigger a partial shutdown of government services.
In Washington, a week is like an NFL triple-header -- a seemingly endless stream of mindless commercial breaks with a few bursts of furious action and momentum swings. Anyone who predicts a shutdown with certainty a week ahead of time is messing with your head.
Second, all that political rhetoric and bluster is exactly that -- a bunch of words and posturing meant to bolster positions on either side of the debate. At this point, the congressional machinations in coming days are fairly clear, despite what one side or the other tries to portray as the right thing to do.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, four members of Congress -- two from each party -- were asked if there would be a shutdown. All answered no.
Third, this is all really about elections, like everything in Washington. In this case, legislators eyeing next year's congressional elections and the 2016 presidential vote are trying to appeal to their political bases more than actually working for a compromise solution.
So what do we know will happen?
The Democratic-led Senate kicks off the week of legislative brinksmanship by taking up a spending plan passed Friday by the Republican-led House that strips all funding for President Barack Obama's health care reforms.
A conservative GOP wing bullied Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to include the provision defunding Obamacare in the House spending measure, known in congressional jargon as a continuing resolution.
Those tea party conservatives seek to destroy or at least weaken the health care reforms of the Obamacare law passed in 2010 and held up as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012. They face fierce opposition from Obama and Democrats, who want to protect the president's signature legislative accomplishment so far.
Because Republicans control the House, they were able to pass the spending plan contingent on defunding Obamacare by a 230-189 margin, with all but two "yes" votes from Republicans and all but one "no" vote from Democrats.
In the Senate, however, Democrats and their two independent allies hold 54 of the 100 seats.
Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada plans to remove the provision that defunds Obamacare from the House spending plan and send it back to Boehner.
While conservatives led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas threaten a filibuster to force a 60-vote majority to proceed, several prominent Republican senators oppose forcing a government shutdown by attaching the Obamacare issue to the spending plan.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Monday he will vote to overcome a filibuster attempt, guaranteeing such an effort by Cruz would fail as predicted.
Cruz, elected in 2012 with tea party support, has angered Republican veterans since joining the Senate by promoting political crusades for extreme conservative causes that ignore traditions of the chamber and, in some cases, political reality.
Last week, he called on the Senate to follow the House GOP lead in voting to defund Obamacare, even though prominent Republicans criticized him, with Sen. John McCain of Arizona labeling the plan impossible to achieve and therefore irrational.
Even one of Cruz's libertarian allies, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, concedes that the health care reforms are probably here to stay, though he backs a Senate filibuster to try to delay or undermine them as much as possible.
Meanwhile, other tea party favorites including Sarah Palin support the effort by Cruz to upend Senate normalcy by forcing Democrats and fellow Republicans to repeatedly make highly publicized votes for or against Obamacare.
In an op-ed published Monday on the website RealClearPolitics.com, Cruz called for GOP unity against Obamacare through a successful filibuster of any spending plan that includes funding for the health care reforms.
He laid out a procedural strategy in which Senate Republicans refuse to allow Reid to take up the House measure -- a step known as cloture that requires 60 votes -- unless the Democratic leader also permits a 60-vote threshold to pass any subsequent amendments such as the certain removal of the provision defunding Obamacare.
Otherwise, amendments pass by a simple 51-vote majority that the Democrats possess.