WASHINGTON -- Voters sent a loud, angry message to President Obama and Congress last November that government is too big, and spends too much. Cut it.
Everyone seemed to get the message except the Democrats and the White House, who have been fighting tooth and nail to keep government spending roughly where it is now, with minor snips here and there.
That message got 241 Republicans elected to the House, putting them in charge of that chamber, and reduced the Democrats' forces in the Senate, giving Majority Leader Harry Reid a tenuous margin of four that keeps him in power.
Earlier this year, House Republicans sent over a bill that would cut the current budget -- six months into its fiscal year -- by $61 billion. While that is a teeny fraction of a nearly $4 trillion budget, it would be the biggest single-year, mid-course budget cut in U.S. history.
Yet even as small as the total spending cuts were, Reid declared them dead on arrival, and in a roll-call, party-line vote, it failed to get the 60 votes needed to cut off a Democratic filibuster.
Even if it were passed, Obama would have vetoed it.
Making matters even more complicated, the budget battle is being fought under a series of weekly budget deadlines. Congress has passed at least half a dozen tight extensions to keep the federal government funded until a budget is approved for the remainder of this fiscal year.
The latest extension expires April 8, leaving little time to hammer out a compromise between the two houses.
But House Speaker John Boehner's tea-party forces are growing more impatient with the Senate, with many if not most of them saying they will not only oppose anything less than $61 billion in budget cuts, they will not agree to any further time extensions.
The tea-party insurgents, who probably have enough votes to defeat any compromise they deem insufficient, are daring Senate Democrats to accept their proposal or face a government shutdown April 8. Democrats, believing the GOP would be blamed for a shutdown, reply, "Go ahead, make our day."
House Republicans have plenty of reasons to stand firmly behind their mid-course budget cuts and push the Democrats to the brink in this fight. First, Congress is in an untenable fiscal position because the Democrats didn't pass a budget last year, leaving incoming Republicans to clean up the mess. Second, Reid and the Democrats have refused to send their own budget bill to the House, creating a stalemate. Instead, Reid offered a meaningless $10 billion in unspecified cuts.