THE GOP’S GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN MAY HAPPEN SOONER THAN EXPECTED…. There’s been ample discussion in recent months about whether congressional Republicans would use their vastly improved numbers in the next Congress to force a government shutdown.

But we may not have to wait that long — Republicans might shut down the government this weekend.

Republican and Democratic leaders are now engaged in a brinksmanship that could result in a temporary shutdown of the federal government. After the election, Republicans voted among themselves to eschew all earmarks for two years, and now they have to make good on their pledge. Yesterday, Democrats’ chief appropriator, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) unveiled what’s known as an omnibus spending bill — a bundled up package of appropriations legislation, earmarks, and other measures — which would keep the government running for a year.

In response, most Republicans — even those whose multimillion dollar earmark requests are included in the legislation — are saying, “Hell no you can’t!”

That puts them all in an awkward position…. Democrats will try to use the impending deadline to pass the omnibus. If it fails, they can take up a piece of legislation passed by the House known as a “continuing resolution,” which will keep the government funded at current levels through next year.

Republican leaders reject both plans.

The GOP demand is for a short-term spending bill that would keep the lights on until early next year, at which point far-right lawmakers could use their new strength to do more damage. In true hostage-taking style, Republicans are effectively saying, “Pass our short-term measure or we’ll shut down the government.”

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard much about this until now, it’s probably because few expected it to come to this. The omnibus bill, unveiled yesterday, includes spending Republicans themselves asked for. Indeed, the omnibus was supposed to pass with bipartisan support.

But it’s not. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Thune (R-S.D.) tried to explain this morning why Republicans have to kill the spending measure because of pet projects, but struggled badly when asked why they put their own pet projects in the bill they intend to reject.

In one of my favorite exchanges in recent memory, Fox News asked Cornyn this morning, “Now, you yourself have asked for earmarks, too, according to this list, some $16 million for your home state. Can you defend that, senator?” Cornyn replied, “Well, I believe I can. But I’m not going to.”


Making matters slightly worse, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) will demand that the clerk read the entire omnibus bill, out loud, from start to finish, just to delay for the sake of delay. Given the size of the bill, the gambit could take up to 60 hours.

As is nearly always the case, the bill will need 60 votes. Whether those votes will be there remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that Dems are already splintering — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said this morning she intends to support the Republican filibuster.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.