Republicans are more afraid than I thought about the possibility of a government shutdown, or rather, being blamed for a government shutdown. They really don’t want to take the heat for it. Of course, the only way they’re going to get major spending cuts in the near term is if they refuse to compromise and threaten a shutdown. But Democrats have actually done a decent job of pre-blaming the opposition for the consequences of that. So the GOP has shied away from it, to the extent that Paul Ryan said today that Congress would pass short-term CRs while the 2011 budget situation reached a solution.

Republicans will pass short-term measures to keep funding the government rather than allow a shutdown, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday.

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that if the GOP-held House can’t reach an agreement with President Obama and Democrats in the Senate on a continuing resolution (“CR”) funding government the rest of this fiscal year, they would pursue temporary funding measures, and not allow a government shutdown.

“If we don’t get agreement in the meantime, yes, we do think there’s going to be some sort of situation where there’s a short-term CR,” Ryan said on “Good Morning America.”

“I think we’re going to have to negotiate exactly how those short-term CRs occur,” he added.

At this point a short-term CR that kept funding at current levels is about the best that anyone can hope for. I don’t know how short-term Ryan is talking about here, or what “we’re going to have to negotiate exactly how those short-term CRs occur” means. If he wants cuts in the short-term CR, then it’s not a whole lot different. Finally, I don’t think the House leadership has control of their caucus, so you can’t totally go by leadership statements.

But every extension of current spending levels makes it that much harder for Republicans to squeeze in their cuts; the money gets spent throughout the year, after all. A continued fight on this year’s budget delays the bigger fight over next year’s budget. If Republicans aren’t prepared to shut down the government, they may just give up on the FY 2011 budget and look to make their mark on FY 2012. Their base would obviously see this as a betrayal, but they seem less concerned with that in public statements than they do with avoiding blame for a government shutdown.

The only member of the Democratic leadership or the Administration who would balk at this turn of affairs may be Robert Gates, who engaged in a pretty epic whine of his own yesterday.

Even as the Obama administration on Monday rolled out its budget for 2012, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was dueling with Congress over military spending for this year, saying the Pentagon cannot do its job with cuts of more than $9 billion.

Mr. Gates said restrictions on spending “may soon turn into a crisis” for the military, as Congress, deadlocked over the politics of passing a federal budget for 2011, placed the government on a “continuing resolution” that has limited Pentagon spending since last autumn.

If that stopgap budget stays in place for the entire fiscal year, it would result in military spending of $526 billion, not counting the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or a cut of $23 billion from the administration’s request of $549 billion. Mr. Gates demanded that Congress approve 2011 spending of at least $540 billion.

“Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country’s security and vital interests around the world,” Mr. Gates said in a Pentagon news conference.

Wahh, wahh, wahh. I don’t want to trivialize the lament of someone getting only $526 billion for his department, and yet, I do.

Continuing resolutions make for bad budgeting. Indeed, even in the case of the military, they cannot shift around money and award new contracts under an old budget order. But the alternative of $60 billion in cuts in a short time frame is worse. The only reason Gates doesn’t think so is that his department is largely spared by the House GOP proposal.