Shutdown Brinksmanship Redux: Nobody Wants It But Everyone's Talking About It

Senate Democrats are seeking to cast House Speaker John Boehner as following in the missteps of former Speaker Newt Gingrich -- or perhaps former President George H.W. Bush -- saying Boehner's "read my lips" pledge last week to cut spending without delay will come back to bite him.

But even as Democrats launch their salvo against Boehner, the Republicans' point-man on all things budgetary said a shutdown isn't in the cards.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, on Sunday guessed that Congress "will probably have some short-term extensions while we negotiate these things with spending cuts."

With Congress out of session this week for the presidents birthday holiday, the Senate is left with just days to find a solution for funding the budget before the March 4 deadline expires on the continuing resolution, or CR, which allows for short-term financing of the government.

Democrats want to extend the continuing resolution through the end of the month to give the sides more time to negotiate, but Republicans are insisting that cuts approved by a party-line House vote on Saturday morning should be accepted in the other chamber.

Asked about the possibility of approving another CR to provide short-term funding while Congress seeks an agreement, Boehner said: "I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips, we're going to cut spending."

Failure to compromise could force a government shutdown reminiscent of the 1995-1996 shuttering that played out poorly for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. At the same time, if Boehner backs down on his demands for austere cuts, his "read my lips" pledge could put him in the realm of former President George H.W. Bush, whose retraction on a pledge not to raise taxes severely hurt him with his base.

"There are lots of people on the hard right clamoring for a shutdown," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "So one thinks that they are (going to) use the shutdown to get their way. ... That's wrong. It's dangerous for the economy, dangerous for the American people."

"If we don't want to make political points and if we're not posturing for the extreme elements of our party, we can all sit down and find those compromises, and that's (what) Boehner ought to be emphasizing, not saying I refuse anything," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The House Republican-approved plan calls for $61 billion in cuts from "discretionary non-security" programs, which comprise only 12 percent of the entire budget. The changes exclude items such as the military, Social Security and Medicare.

Click here to see how your representative voted on the $61 billion in spending cuts.

President Obama and congressional Democrats say such cuts would be reckless and damaging. Their figure is closer to $41 billion over what the president proposed for 2011, but which never passed the then-Democratic led Legislature.

Boehner's pledge came last week after being questioned by reporters about how strongly he would insist that the U.S. Congress cut $61 billion from the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Democrats pointed to it Sunday, with McCaskill saying the speaker's unwillingness to stretch the timeline for negotiating a compromise by "a week or two days or four days" is "silly."

"The bottom line is we all want cuts," she told "Fox News Sunday.

But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said waiting doesn't do Congress -- or the public -- any good.

"You can't play the waiting game saying, well, 'We don't want to agree to this now. Give us a month, and we'll get it done in the next month.' The fact is, you'll get waited out and you'll still spend the $61 billion this year that we don't need to spend," Coburn told "Fox News Sunday."

"So, you know, it's good for political rhetoric to talk about a government shutdown. But I don't know anybody that wants that to happen," Coburn added.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," following Schumer, said the House plan is reasonable considering the extent of U.S. debt.

"We must have reductions that are very, very substantial and the Senate must have an opportunity to act upon them as well as the House," Lugar said. "I think something in the neighborhood of the 60 billion (dollars) that the House has done -- that seems to me to be a reasonable figure, to say the least. I don't think they have overstated it."