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Senate Democrats: GOP Spending Plan ‘Unworkable’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Republican proposals for deep spending cuts this year “unworkable” and warned them against shutting down the government to get their way.

The Nevada Democrat said that the latest proposal from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was “unworkable” and urged Republicans to join with Democrats on a long-term strategy to deal with the deficit.

“We recognize that there has to be some long-term austerity,” Reid said, adding that he’s looking to see what Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) can accomplish in his committee. “We’re not burying our heads in the sand,” he said.

But Reid said Republicans should not threaten a government shutdown if they do not get everything they want.

“We’re not willing to play Russian roulette,” Reid said.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) criticized GOP leaders for refusing to rule out a shutdown. 

He warned that a shutdown and a debt default could spook credit markets and force an even deeper recession, triggering everything from a failure to pay Social Security checks and Medicare reimbursements to failure to pay soldiers in the field.

Schumer said that Republicans would be responsible for a shutdown if they are not willing to come to the table and negotiate.

Ryan’s proposal cuts discretionary spending $35 billion below last year’s levels and $74 billion below President Barack Obama’s request. That’s shy of the $100 billion pledge House Republicans made last year, but Republicans have noted that they are effectively back to 2008 spending levels given that the government is already well into the fiscal year.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he, Conrad, and Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who all supported the $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction package crafted by the president’s fiscal commission, are meeting regularly to try and chart a path forward.

Economist Mark Zandi joined Democratic leaders and warned that a government shutdown, debt default or even cuts in spending this year could hurt the economy. Zandi urged, however, that a long-term deficit deal be reached within the next few years, with austerity measures delayed until the unemployment rate drops.

Republicans blamed Democrats for talking up a shutdown instead of responding to demands for budget cuts.

“The only people talking about shutting down the government are a handful of Senate Democrats at a press conference today,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Thursday.

“As Republicans focus on constructive ways for the two parties to work together on cutting spending and debt, Sen. Schumer seems strangely preoccupied with the notion of a government shutdown,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said. “It is our hope that he soon realizes the only person talking about a shutdown is Sen. Schumer.”

Conrad has said he will not vote for a long-term increase in the debt ceiling until a long-term deficit package is passed. He said this week that he will support only short-term increases in the debt ceiling to keep the pressure on for a deal.

Conrad also has called repeatedly for a budget summit to be convened shortly between the House, Senate and the White House to pass a deal before a debt limit increase is needed.

Other Democratic leaders have yet to sign on to the idea, however.