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Most of President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address was policy wonk stuff. Dull but important things such as deficit reduction, tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and education. All of it, as the president said, key to rebuilding the national economy and re-energizing the great driver of that economy — a growing and secure middle class.

The emotions in the House chamber, though, rose when Obama spoke of the need for federal action on various proposals to reduce the amount of gun violence that stalks our streets, our public places, even our schools. Not every member of Congress, the president said, needs to agree with, or vote for, every gun safety measure.

But, of the victims and the survivors of Newtown, of Aurora, of Tucson, Obama chanted, "They deserve a vote."

And indeed they do. Measures supported by significant majorities of the American people, even majorities of gun owners, include universal background checks on gun purchases and limits on high-capacity magazines. These proposals should come to a vote in Congress, and no member should be allowed to hide from taking a stand.

The same is true, though, of the president's other proposals, as well as of rival ideas for how to control the deficit and rebuild the economy. They, too, deserve a vote.

Obama was correct when he said that both ordinary working people and global capital markets are tired of a Congress that lurches from one artificial crisis to another — fiscal cliffs, debt defaults, sequestrations — all of which are caused by the inability of all of our elected leaders, in both parties, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, to come to an agreement and put our fiscal house in order.

The president described his many proposals — improved education from preschool to college, clean energy, infrastructure restoration — as part of a restored economy. He also insisted that, together with his proposals for savings in other areas and increased revenues earned from tax reform, the overall effect of his agenda will not add to the deficit, not, he promised, "by a single dime."

That is a promise that deserves a vote. But also many more specifics and a great deal of serious, nonpartisan scrutiny.

The many things the president wants, that we all should want, especially his call for vast improvements in early childhood education, will not come to pass, will not be sustainable, will not benefit one generation, much less many, if the process does not, at the same time, start to bring down the deficit and make our debt manageable.

As the president said, we can do this. We must do this.

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