"I will be paying attention to two things. First, can they settle this squabble over the immediate budget," says Alice Rivlin.
Rivlin, senior fellow in economics at Brookings Institution, is referring to the Continuing Resolution still needed to finalize funding for the current fiscal year, which is half-over already.
"They should resolve it quickly. Any compromise will do I think... Get it over with and move on, because this is a distraction," shes says.
The real budget challenge is out there in the not-so-distant future. Fiscal Year 2012. According to Rivlin, the country is entering a period in which federal spending is bound to rise faster than federal revenues, not because of the recession or the President's policy initiatives or even the stimulus.
"It's because of the impact of aging and rising medical care costs on Medicare and Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security," she explains.
A trinity of long-term debt drivers, each one more fraught with political landmines than the last. Nonetheless, Rivlin says she's "hopeful," in part thanks to an unlikely pairing of Senators -- Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss.
"I am looking to the bipartisan group of Senators that are working," Rivlin says. "I think that is the most significant thing going on at the moment. They are focused on the long-run deficit. But to control that requires doing very unpopular things."
Things like entitlement reform and taxes. Momentum is building in the Senate. So is pressure on the President to get more involved.