The chief criticism of the recent drama surrounding the congressional vote to extend the debt limit and end the government shutdown is that it didn’t result in any structural change in spending or reducing the deficit.

Rather, all the fiscal brawl did was kick the major issues down the road for another day and another potential national crisis.

Optimists had suggested that the extension of time would give Republicans and Democrats time to work out a “grand bargain” on the budget that addresses entitlement reform and other fundamental drivers of the deficit.

Don’t count on it, say GOP budget guru Paul Ryan and top Senate Democrat Harry Reid.

According to the Associated Press, both say the best Washington can do in this bitterly partisan era of divided government is a “small-ball” bargain that tried to take the edge off of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

Long-standing, entrenched differences over taxes and spending policies make a large-scale budget pact virtually impossible, according to Ryan and Reid.

Plus, it would take some courage and leadership from both parties to reach a major deal on the budget — two commodities in short supply in a very toxic environment in Congress right now.

This lowering of expectations by budget negotiators comes at a time when economic data suggests that our government’s ineptness and self-destructive tendencies is actually dragging down the economy — an economy that many felt would see a rebound in 2014.

Analysts and executives say the issue is not so much that Washington is killing growth, it’s that it’s standing in the way of what could be a far stronger economy by its self-manufactured budget crises.

Given this backdrop, playing “small ball” is the best the American people can hope for from Congress and the president when it comes to leadership.