This year’s contrived budget crisis is headed to its climax, as the date for defaulting on the nation’s debt approaches.

Washington’s budget debates are dizzying and incomprehensible. But at stake is what kind of country we will have. House Republican Tea Party zealots, backed by well-funded right-wing lobbies, continue to manufacture budget crises. They want to alarm Americans into accepting cuts in basic security — in food stamps, and home heating, in Social Security or Medicare benefits — that would otherwise be utterly unacceptable.

Lost in the uproar is any reasoned discussion of the real strategies we need to make this economy work for working people. It is vital that the president and the Democrats in Congress end this macabre dance and make it clear to people just what the stakes actually are. The measure of any compromise deal is whether it will crush the hostage-takers.

Last week, Tea Party Republicans finally blinked. The big money that drove the effort to hold government hostage in order to defund, or at least delay, Obamacare called off the dogs. With catastrophic financial default looming, and Republicans already plummeting in polls measuring voter approval, the lavishly funded right-wing lobby groups — Heritage Action for America, the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth — unfurled the white flag, announcing that they would not punish House Republicans for voting for a short-term hike in the debt ceiling.

Simultaneously, conservative business money — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others — carefully leaked plans to protect incumbents in primaries against zealous Tea Party challengers. The Koch Brothers took a step back; the corporate and bank money looked to limit the damage.