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'Fiscal cliff': Is Washington missing its chance to 'go big'?

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Mr. Obama is returning to the White House late Wednesday evening from his vacation in Hawaii, and the Democrat-led Senate will be back to work on Thursday.

Before leaving town last week, the president asked congressional leaders to consider not the sweeping “grand bargain” on the nation’s debt that he had sought, but a far less ambitious package. Principally, one that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for middle-class Americans, allow longer unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless, and that would, nebulously, lay “the groundwork for further work on both growth and deficit reduction.”

“That's an achievable goal,” the president said just a few hours before jetting off to Hawaii. “That can get done in 10 days.”

But even that modest target may be a long shot.

Stan Collender, a former House Budget Committee staffer, thinks there’s a 90 percent chance the political class turns up no accord with the current state of affairs.

“Even though it will be one of the worst possible outcomes economically, it's hard to argue with the procedural simplicity of doing nothing, because nothing would have to be debated, passed in the House and Senate, compromised, or signed by the president,” Mr. Collender writes. “No votes, caucus meetings, press conferences or negotiating sessions.”

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