While the Wisconsin issue and the larger battle over public employees in the states will play out over the next several weeks, we have this other major looming situation that could result in the federal government shutting down in less than two weeks. What’s the latest there?

Well, we know the House passed their continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year, which included at least $61 billion (given all the amendments this is probably more, I haven’t seen a CBO assessment of it yet) in budget cuts from the FY 2010 baseline. The Senate has basically pronounced it dead on arrival, and the White House threatened to veto it, or at least something that did everything it does. The Congress is on a one-week break and when they return, they’ll have one week to resolve this before the old CR runs out. Nancy Pelosi has offered a short-term CR until March 31 to facilitate negotiation. But John Boehner has rejected any CR that doesn’t cut spending.

While he’s done that, Boehner is apparently readying some kind of stopgap, mindful that what the House passed last week will not be the final word, and that the resolution will not be seen within a week. He said that reporters will see this stopgap “soon enough.”

What’s likely is that this short-term stopgap would have to contain cuts of some sort to get signoff from the House GOP leadership.

GOP leadership, he said, would accept a short-term extension of funds to keep the government running while negotiations with the Senate on a long-term deal continued. Those funds, however, could not be at the same level as the current continuing resolution; they’d have to contain cuts.

“Well, our goal is to bring spending back down to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus spending levels, 2008 levels,” Ryan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “My guess is we’ll probably have some short-term extensions while we negotiate these things with spending cuts. We don’t want to accept these extremely high, elevated levels and so we’re going to have to start negotiating on these things not just with the Senate but also with the president as well. I’m not going to go through negotiating through the media, with all due respect, but we are not going to accept these extremely high levels of spending. We’re not looking for a government shutdown. And I think we’ll have some negotiations with short-term spending cuts in the interim is my guess.”

The level of those cuts in the short term is unspecified. Harry Reid responded to the CR passed by the House saying that Democrats “brought $41 billion in cuts to the table, nearly half of the House Republican proposal.” It sounds like he’s going with the artificial claim Republicans are using of a $100 billion cut below the President’s 2011 request. In real terms, that’s a $61 billion cut, so whatever Reid is talking about is probably closer to $25 billion. And I assume he’s referencing cuts to oil and gas subsidies and wasteful defense projects. None of this is really specific on either side, so you have to play detective.

We know that the House’s bill has little support in the Senate. Even Dick Lugar doesn’t support it. But most Republicans support that baseline figure of $61 billion in cuts, and now you have Reid talking about what I think is around $25 billion in cuts. So you can envision a solution somewhere in between there. As for a short-term CR, it’s impossible to know what Republicans would demand in a one-month spending bill. Would it be 1/7 of the cuts in their final bill (about $9 billion)? Less?

Nancy Pelosi’s short-term CR just froze everything at current levels. But we’re now basically talking about levels of cuts here, as for the most part this is all playing out on that side of the fence. Democrats and Republicans may not be able to get together on that final number, or on where those cuts are distributed. In fact, I’d say a shutdown is likely, although in recent days it’s the Republicans doing the movement, from “no short-term CR” to “a short-term CR with cuts in it.” But you don’t have to hear “we all agree there should be cuts” too many times to know that’s where we’re headed with this.