Obama sets up spending showdown

President Barack Obama did what he does best on Tuesday night, delivering a well-crafted State of the Union address with characteristic oratorical skill.

Make no mistake, however: Despite paying tribute to free-market job creation and vowing to attack the soaring deficit and debt, the president signaled that major budget battles with the GOP lie ahead.

With the Tucson tragedy hovering over the House chambers -- in a sign of "civility" lawmakers from both parties sat with each other rather than on opposite sides of the aisle -- President Obama struck a statesmanlike tone.

"What comes of this moment will be determined not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow," he said, emphasizing, "The future is ours to win."

But while admitting that the country must make changes to avoid a fiscal meltdown -- "we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in," he said -- the president also proposed billions in new "stimulus" spending on education, research, technology and transportation.

The inconsistency wasn't lost on Republicans, and the politics are clear.

Stung by the results of November's election, in which the GOP realized major gains running on a platform of fiscal restraint and limited government, President Obama was pushed toward the center and boxed into acknowledging that Washington can't continue to pretend it has unlimited resources. But his enthusiasm for making the hard spending choices rumbling on the horizon remains questionable.

And he will be pushed to do precisely that by Republicans, especially those in the House who recognize the gravity of America's fiscal predicament.

"We are at a moment where, if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be behind her," said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, in the GOP response to the president's speech. "The days of business as usual must come to an end. We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first."

The tone was civil Tuesday night, the mood one of conciliation. But serious differences remain between the parties in both philosophy and urgency when it comes to fiscal policy.

A collision looms.