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Debt-limit fight takes shape: Will Mitch McConnell ever be satisfied?

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Republicans say they will not raise the debt limit unless the increase is offset by spending cuts. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky hinted at their strategy when he told CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday that if the government has to pare back services to deal with an unchanged debt limit, it would be the president's fault.

For his part, President Obama says he won't allow Republicans to hold the debt limit hostage and won't play ball. Behind the scenes, there are rumors of a "grand bargain" that could tie up all the outstanding issues in a nice bow. 

Stop us when this sounds familiar.

So why does Congress lurch from crisis to crisis, seemingly propelled by the Republicans' demand to take a pound (or more) of spending flesh at every turn?

Actually, the answer is quite simple – and, at its core, it is not a matter of political posturing or point-winning, however often it devolves into that. The cause is Congress's continued unwillingness to deal with Medicare, Social Security, and the Pentagon.

The fact is, despite all the hubbub of the past two years, the federal government has still not made any meaningful spending cuts. And that is mostly because meaningful spending cuts are virtually impossible without addressing entitlements or the Department of Defense.

Congress and the president tried to do just that in the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, yet the fiscal cliff deal shows that Washington, when faced with such cuts, apparently doesn't have the stomach to let them take effect.

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