The Senate leadership, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, just paved the way for major spending cuts in this budget year in a conference call with reporters. Saying that “we have to start living within our means to invest in our future,” Reid tried to make a distinction with Republicans only on the idea that Democratic cuts are more responsible and reasonable. This implicitly agrees that spending cuts will be made.

When asked if the new Republican demand for up to $58 billion in cuts from current levels was a nonstarter, Reid only said, “We’re not making statements like that.” He seeks a negotiation with Mitch McConnell, to whom he has reached out, and Republicans to cooperate on a spending deal in the Senate to send to the House.

The implication here is that the Senate will jam the House by coming up with a plan that can pass and sending it over at the last minute before going on vacation. But there’s no real argument on the quantity of cuts, only the quality of them. Sure, Reid had some harsh words for Republican proposals to slash financial aid for college and the COPS program. And he substituted with things like eliminating tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and subsidies to Big Oil. But ultimately, his message was that everyone agrees on budget cuts, it’s just a matter of where.

If anything, Schumer was more direct on this point. “We’re willing to negotiate with House republicans on common sense cuts to reduce the deficit,” he said, “but House Republicans are too bust negotiating with each other!” He said that the infighting threatens a government shutdown. “We have to come together on an agreement or we won’t get any cuts at all!”

The ship has sailed, then, on cuts, perhaps major cuts. In fact, Schumer said the Democratic Senate caucus was “united that we have to make serious cuts,” calling up the “cut and invest” language familiar from the DLC era in the 1990s. And Schumer further acknowledged that both sides won’t get everything they want. In other words, some of the cuts you saw Republicans make will take effect. Schumer also didn’t foreclose on the option of $58 billion in cuts. “It’s not that number, it’s what they’ll have to cut to meet that number.”

Reid set up a model for what the Senate might pass: McCaskill-Sessions, which got 59 votes last year. “We’ll take a look at that. It can get 60 votes this year with the changes in the Senate.” McCaskill-Sessions was a five-year discretionary spending cap, basically the same as what the President has called for, only it adds defense along with non-defense spending. This now represents the LEFT flank in negotiations.

Schumer described the House Republican bickering as a “race to the bottom with no end in sight,” but they’re certainly getting a lot of help. What I got out of it is that Democrats are itching to cut, they want to compromise, they want to use a scalpel instead of a meat axe, to borrow Schumer’s phrase, but they want to cut.

Everybody duck.

UPDATE: I did enjoy this from Reid, from the Senate floor:

“So we need to think about what we’re cutting, and make sure those cuts aren’t counterproductive. We need to pay attention to the quality of these cuts, not just the quantity.

“After all, you can lose a lot of weight by cutting off your arms and legs. But no doctor would recommend it.”

But I don’t see a heck of a lot of oomph behind it. We’re in for cuts, the second half of the tax cut deal.