By Mike Lillis
A top Senate Democrat warned Sunday that Congress is on course for an inevitable government shutdown.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats won't accept the steep spending cuts proposed by House Republicans through September. Furthermore, Senate Democrats will resist the GOP's insistence that even a short-term budget fix must include significant cuts – an ultimatum articulated last week by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
"Unfortunately, Speaker Boehner seems to be on a course that would inevitably lead to a shutdown," Schumer said Sunday morning on CNN's "State of the Union." "That's reckless … and I hope he'd reconsider."
With the current funding law slated to expire March 4, senior lawmakers are eying options to extend it temporarily while party leaders hash out a longer-term deal. Boehner announced Thursday that Republicans won't accept an extension of government spending at current levels, insisting instead that unspecified cuts accompany even a short-term extension.
“I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels,” he said. “When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips, we’re going to cut spending.”
The House on Saturday passed a Republican bill that cuts federal spending by $61 billion below current levels, or $100 billion below President Obama's budget request for fiscal year 2011. Obama's budget was never enacted.
Schumer said Democrats "have already agreed" to $41 billion in cuts below President Obama's 2011 budget request in December, when Congress passed the bill funding the government through March 4.
"These cuts are very painful, and many in our caucus didn't want to go along with those," Schumer said.
"What we're proposing is that for a short time – a couple of weeks – we continue that $41 billion level while House and Senate negotiators come up somewhere in the middle," he said. "We are saying, 'Negotiate,' and they're saying, 'Do it my way' before any negotiations even begin."
Schumer said the deeper cuts proposed by Republicans would hinder key government functions, including the work of health inspectors, border security officers and the Social Security Administration.
"I understand that Speaker Boehner is being pushed by the hard right," Schumer said. "But it's wrong wrong; it would hurt innocent people; hurt the economy; and we hope we can come to the table and negotiate without shutting the government down."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that a government shutdown would be an "utter failure" and urged the parties to "sit down in a positive way and work out our differences."
"We know we need to cut spending," he said. "We know we need to find a way to live within our fiscal means. ... If I have anything to fault with the House approach to it, I think they went too far with their cuts."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also said he hopes there will be a resolution that averts a shutdown, but noted that House Republicans were just following through on their campaign promises.
"The only way we'll shut the government down is if our Democratic colleagues insist on keeping the government large and unsustainable," Graham said on NBC, adding that he won't support a temporary CR unless it includes some spending cuts.
Bridget Johnson contributed to this report
This post was updated at 11:05 a.m.