In the final hours of the debt ceiling talks Sunday, something strange happened. While Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin was running out the clock on a bill he and everyone in the chamber knew was dead and was about to be replaced with a deal that was still being worked out with the White House, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain asked to engage in a colloquy, a debate in which senators throw down their notes and speak directly to each other.

The 14-minute exchange did not make many of the news stories about the eventual deal, but it was still enlightening to see the way the two parties see the debt issue, with all of the hyperbole and vilification stripped away.

Durbin argued that the nation’s problem was high unemployment and a lack of consumer demand. That is a scenario that calls for government spending, not cutbacks, he said. McCain said the experience of the last two years showed that trying to stimulate the economy through government spending does not work. The two sparred back and forth, without losing their tempers, but still forcefully making their arguments.

“For those of you who are witnessing this,” Durbin said at one point, “this is almost a debate in the United States Senate, and that rarely happens.”

McCain, too, appreciated the exchange. “We should have this type of debate in forums other than the Sunday (talk) shows, and perhaps the floor of the Senate is the place to do that.”

The back-and-forth between the two veteran lawmakers was almost enough to make one hopeful about what lies ahead. But hope is tempered by the fact that once the real plan emerged, the Sunday afternoon colloquy was over, and both sides were back to business as usual.