Just before leaving for this week's recess, House Democratic leaders introduced a resolution that would extend the current spending resolution until March 31. Their proposal, H.J. Res. 43, is sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).

The House Democratic proposal is similar to one outlined on Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who wants a 30-day extension until early April.

Democrats say a short extension is needed to give both parties time to work out a spending deal for the rest of FY 2011. In a statement last week, Pelosi said work could continue "without punishing the American people by denying them vital services."

"In order to give Congress time to finish the legislation and avoid the calamitous effect of a government shutdown on the American people, I am hopeful Republican leaders will agree to a short-term extension of the freeze as we work to pass a bill the president can sign into law for the remainder of 2011," she said.

But House and Senate Republicans are insisting that even a short budget extension must contain budget cuts. The House last week passed a bill for the remainder of FY 2011 that would cut about $40 billion from current spending levels.

The wide gap between Republicans and Democrats has increased speculation that a government shutdown is coming, and Democrats appear to be preparing for this contingency. Late last week, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced H.R. 819, which would prohibit members of Congress and the president from receiving pay during government shutdowns.