WATCHING THE BUDGET TRAIN WRECK IN SLOW MOTION…. For months, congressional Republican have talked about their desire to take a hatchet to the budget, but when pressed for details, they’ve demurred.

That’s no longer an option — Republicans have no choice but to start putting fiscal meat on the rhetorical bones. As a result, we’re getting a very good look at GOP priorities for the new Congress.

After fighting tooth and nail for a tax-cut package that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, Republicans have proposed drastic cuts to law enforcement, transportation, aid to families and pregnant women, clean-energy programs, medical research, environmental protections, and job training. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee told GOP lawmakers they will be “voting on the largest set of spending cuts in the history of our nation.”

House Republicans sketched their vision for a smaller federal government Wednesday, proposing sharp spending cuts that would wipe out family planning programs, take 4,500 cops off the street and slice 10 percent from a food program that aids pregnant women and their babies.

Top White House priorities also would come under the knife: Key Republicans are proposing to defund President Obama’s high-speed rail initiative, slash clean energy programs and gut the Office of Science by 20 percent – cuts that would deal a direct blow to Obama’s innovation agenda. They would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 17 percent.

One report referred to the proposal as “the GOP Chainsaw Massacre.”

Naturally, right-wing lawmakers immediately announced that the brutal cuts weren’t devastating enough, and the Republican Study Committee won’t be satisfied until far more Americans felt the brunt of far more cuts.

As one might imagine, these proposed ideas weren’t well received by Democrats — on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue — nor should they be. Republicans who fought to protect tax breaks for millionaires at all costs are now eager to do real damage to struggling families, while forcing extensive public-sector layoffs.

One might even go so far as to describe proposed Republican cuts as “job-killing,” which has the added benefit of being accurate. Indeed, this isn’t even in dispute — the GOP proposal would force more Americans out of work, on purpose, as part of a larger effort to prioritize deficit reduction over the jobs crisis.

The only certainty is that upcoming budget battle will be fierce.

It’s also worth noting that it can be challenging to keep up with the competing fights over the budget, which makes Ezra Klein’s summary this morning all the more helpful.

There are two budget debates going on in Washington right now. One is about the budget for next year, fiscal year 2012. That’s the debate that the Obama administration will kick off when they release their budget on Monday. The other is what happens for the rest of this year, fiscal year 2011. That’s the debate Republicans are going to kick off when they release their budget proposal next week. […]

Recall that for all the lame duck session’s productivity, Senate Democrats didn’t manage to overcome Republican opposition to a package funding the government for fiscal year 2011. Instead, they passed a resolution keeping the funding going for a few more months. That bill is coming up for renewal soon, and Republicans are hoping to use it as leverage for some big cuts. At the same time, this is the season when the government traditionally begins debating its proposal for the next fiscal year, too. Which means we’re going to have a bit of a budget-proposal pile-up next week: We’re going to get two proposals next week — and perhaps three, if the Republican Study Committee decides to go its own way — but they’ll be covering different time periods.

Simple, right?

I continue to believe the odds of a government shutdown are relatively high.

Steve Benen

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.