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Debt-ceiling deal holds hope of ending Beltway brinkmanship (+video)

House Republicans have used debt ceilings and 'fiscal cliffs' as political levers partly because Democrats in the Senate haven't passed a budget plan in three years. Now, that will change.

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“The House Republicans can't have it both ways. If they want us – and we want to – to move a budget resolution through in regular process, then they can't have brinkmanship on every crisis that they manufacture for the next six months,” Senator Murray told reporters Wednesday. “So I hope that they stop doing this brinksmanship, bring our country back to a place where we can do the regular order as they have asked us to, move our budget resolutions through and find a resolution to reach a fair and balanced deal at the end of the day.”

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Conservatives might not be ready to give up their perceived points of leverage yet.

“Under normal circumstances, this would not be a fight. You would just do a budget and be done with it. But we’re not under normal circumstances,” says Rep. Scott Garrett (R) of New Jersey, who wrote a 2012 federal budget proposal for the Republican Study Committee, Congress's most conservative caucus. On government funding and the sequester, he says, “we will have to let these things hit and deal with them one at a time.”

Then again, the budget is Congress's biggest fiscal lever. While House Republicans have passed a raft of conservative legislation, all of it has withered in the Senate. While budget resolutions are nonbinding – the money is actually authorized in a separate process – there's hope that doing the budget will be tantamount to a negotiation between the two parties over debt and government spending.

Rep. Rob Woodall (R) of Georgia, who mans the party’s right flank on fiscal issues, came away from a recent visit to Mr. Boehner's office impressed with the speaker's vision for the next round of budget fights.

“We have real opportunities in divided government, real opportunities, to come together to do the big things that matter,” Congressman Woodall said, quoting Boehner. "I take him at his word.”

Of course, there are stark differences between Republicans and Democrats about how to come together.

In 2012, House Republicans forwarded a plan that balanced the budget in 27 years. This year, House Republicans are vowing balance the budget within 10 years, meaning it will call for even deeper spending reductions than those decried by Democrats in 2012.

Senate Democrats not only will balk at the 10-year window, but they’ll also insist on tax revenues from ending tax expenditures and closing tax loopholes, a non-starter for the GOP.

But, at least for now, Congress has set up a process for reconciling these differences that isn’t the oft-repeated script of wedging budget debates into other issues because there was no Senate budget to debate.

“This is just the very start of Congress getting serious about budgeting,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee, the leading sponsor of “no budget, no pay” legislation in the House. “It’s just the start. We have a long way to go.”

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