ACTIVE ATTEMPTS TO UNDERMINE THE COUNTRY…. In general, criticizing U.S. politicians by questioning their patriotism is cheap and unnecessary. But once in a while, Republican opposition to the administration is so counter-productive to the nation’s interests, it’s hard not to wonder whether the GOP official is deliberately trying to undermine the United States.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) now appears to have taken a bold step in the debate over the budget deficit: Openly telling a foreign government not to trust the administration in Washington.

The Straits Times reports that Kirk spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, and discussed a meeting he had with Chinese leaders. Here’s the video:

“One of the messages I had — because we need to build trust and confidence in our number one creditor,” said Kirk, “is that the budget numbers that the US government had put forward should not be believed. The Congress is actually gonna spend quite a bit more than what’s in the budget, and the health-care bill probably being the lead driver of additional spending by the Congress.”

Now, I realize that Mark Kirk is poised to launch a Senate campaign, so he’ll need to make ridiculous attacks as often as possible, in order to boost his fundraising prospects. The more intense the vitriol, the more likely GOP donors will feel generous.

But that’s not a compelling excuse. America’s credibility — and, in particular, President Obama’s reliability — with China is absolutely necessary to the health of the nation’s economy. It’s one thing for conservative lawmakers to try to undermine confidence in America’s leadership on Fox News or in some tirade on the House floor, but Mark Kirk, by his own admission, went directly to the Chinese and told them not to believe the Obama administration. Our role in international finance is predicated on the full faith and credit of the United States government, and Mark Kirk wants China to think this isn’t worth much.

There may be more reckless and irresponsible moves a congressional Republican can make, but very few come to mind.

Here’s hoping Kirk was just engaging in some right-wing bluster, and he never issued any such warnings to the Chinese. Perhaps he just wants people to think he tried to undermine the nation’s credibility with China, but he knows actually doing this would be the height of foolishness.

Misguided bravado in advance of a campaign is understandable. Traveling overseas to undercut confidence in the United States is not.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.