Shutdown Shadowboxing

While some tough words are being traded between Democrats and Republicans over the current budget showdown, the real battle won’t be joined until lawmakers return to work next week. And then, all bets are off.

The White House tip toed into the dispute yesterday, trying to both be seen as a neutral third party while at the same time laying the groundwork for an attack on Republicans should the government go into shutdown mode.

“We believe there is the strong potential there for us to reach an agreement to avoid what you call the government shutdown,” said new White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who then previewed what might be the expected attack on the GOP.

“An outcome like a government shutdown would have harmful effects on our economy, would set back our economic recovery, would potentially reduce our job and reduce our job-creation efforts,” Carney added.

The temporary budget plan that the federal government is operating under runs out on March 4, a week from Friday. The House and Senate are out this week, which doesn’t give much time for action on this front.

With Senate Democrats saying they will act on a 30-day budget extension – with no cuts – House GOP leaders seem to have decided to try to offer their own 30-day extension – with cutbacks.

It was last week when Speaker Boehner said, “Read my lips,” making it clear that he would not accept any extension of the current government funding levels without some budget cuts.

How much gets cut and which agency might take the hit is not known right now. It will be a very interesting choice. The first indications are that House Republicans basically want $2 billion in cuts for each week that government funding is extended.

That brings up lots of questions – will Tea Party lawmakers accept it? Will there be any amendments allowed on the floor, or will this be jammed through on a party line vote?

Most importantly, will any Democrats up for re-election in 2012 feel the heat and vote for a limited cutback plan in the Senate?

Remember, the GOP only has 47 votes – and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been making noise about how the cuts envisioned by House Republicans aren’t deep enough.

Most of this is all shadowboxing for now. It would be a lot of fun to be inside the first in-person leadership meetings of next week and hear what both sides really think about strategy.

I gotta make sure I’m stocked up on popcorn. This is going to be a fun next few weeks to be a reporter in the halls of Congress.