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Obama urges a budget without brinkmanship. But can Congress stop the insanity?

In his State of the Union address, Obama calls on Congress to reject manufactured crises as a way of doing its budgetary business. But with fiscal flash points looming, the temptations are powerful.

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It’s not a panacea, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland points out. “That process, of course, will produce all the disagreements that you've heard ... with respect to the right mix of, you know, spending cuts and revenue,” Congressman Van Hollen said. “And so again, the issue's whether we're going to be able to overcome those differences that have prevented us from moving forward in the past.”

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In theory, that process would be better able to handle the long-term questions of federal taxing and spending by putting the entirety of Congress behind figuring out solutions to the nation’s problems instead of a few lawmakers and wonks from the White House and congressional leadership.

“Our focus on the question should be, what kind of economy do we want 10 years from now?” said Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Tuesday. “What kind of commitments do we want to keep to our seniors and others – and make sure that the deficits in that year are not dragging down the economy.”

But between today and a sustained, orderly debate on the nation’s finances are those land mines: sequester, government funding, debt ceiling.

And Republicans simply don’t trust the president to play fair if they were to give up those points of leverage.

When Obama swore that none of his new State of the Union proposals would add a dime to the deficit, Rep. Kevin Brady (R) of Texas quipped, “I’m 5’5” and I’m going to dunk a basketball before that promise ever comes true.”

Even when Obama brings up his willingness to tackle fundamental GOP concerns such as Medicare’s fiscal future, Republicans say he is either not owning up to the fullness of the problem or unwilling to actually make necessary changes.

Referencing the president’s promise to adopt Medicare reforms up to those recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, Rep. John Fleming (R) of Louisiana warned, “remember, that was his commission he put together, he absolutely ignored their findings, and even the pieces we’ve tried to send him he’s ignored. So why would he suddenly embrace it when he’s ignored it all along?”

Even so, there’s a weariness among members of both parties to keep the adrenaline pumping on fiscal issues. And maybe having given trips to the financial edge a try – dare one say – the next time or two might be different.

“There's an eerie similarity here, isn't there, to previous occurrences,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “Take no action, go right up to the deadline, and have an 11th-hour negotiation. Read my lips. I'm not interested in an 11th-hour negotiation.”


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