For much of the past month, whenever I was lying on the couch or in my bed, I invariably found myself staring at the ceiling – not the one above my head, but the one staring all of us in the face, i.e., the debt ceiling. Switching from CNN to MSNBC to Fox News most evenings, and adding “This Week” and “Meet the Press” on Sunday mornings, I became a debt-ceiling junkie, hooked on trying to figure out the negotiating strategies of the principal participants.

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor abruptly ended negotiations with President Obama, was he deliberately playing “the bad cop” in order to give Speaker of the House John Boehner greater credibility as “the good cop?”

When President Obama and Speaker Boehner then met privately, were they cleverly choreographing a “dance” in order to manage the expectations of their respective bases, while simultaneously forging middle ground they hoped might find public support?

When Speaker Boehner failed to return President Obama’s call and later withdrew from further negotiations, was it a negotiating ploy or was it because he was having “client control” problems with members of the Republican caucus?

When President Obama continued to express a preference for the so-called “grand bargain,” was it because he doubted that the House and Senate would be able to reach an agreement on such a plan and because he hoped their failure to act might lead the public, Wall Street and the global markets to exert enough pressure on Congress to give the President what he really wanted, i.e., an extension of the debt ceiling without any conditions attached to it?

I was particularly struck by the fact that almost everyone involved had already conceded there was no viable alternative to a negotiated agreement. The principals all agreed – and had publicly stated – that they had no choice but to reach an agreement because the consequences of a failed negotiation would be so grave. In other words, the question was never whether the parties would reach an agreement, but rather when and on what terms.

Given those dynamics, I found myself wondering whether the process might have been less politically charged and whether an agreement might have been reached more quickly if a neutral third party – perhaps a respected former foreign leader – had been asked to facilitate the negotiations.

On the other hand, with the President, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives all staring at the exact same ceiling, perhaps the only question all along had been which of the three would be the first to blink.

As always, it would be my pleasure to assist you and your clients in the dispute resolution process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service.

Best regards . . .

Floyd J. Siegal