Remember, the budget saga began with Republicans vowing in the Pledge to America to cut $100 billion in discretionary non-defense spending. That’s a token cut — as noted many times here previously, the deficit this year alone will be 15 times that amount — but that was their promise. Then, last week, they backed off it when huge numbers of Republicans joined with Democrats to reject an amendment to add $22 billion in additional cuts to the current number of $60 billion. So the current number is even more token still. But because they’re not prepared to go to the mat even on that puny number, we’re going to swerve again to avoid a game of chicken with Democrats before funding runs out on March 4. Enter the temporary budget fix, which will provide new funds for two weeks to keep things running while they work out a deal for the rest of the year.

Question: What happens after two weeks if there’s still no deal? If Republicans are this terrified of being blamed for a shutdown, why shouldn’t Democrats drive the hardest bargain they can?

News of the negotiations comes a day after several Republican lawmakers indicated they might accept a short-term spending bill as long as it included at least some spending reductions and not necessarily the deeper cuts the House approved last weekend…

“Everyone knows that, no matter what the truth, we would be blamed [for a government shutdown], so it would be a dumb political move,” one House Republican leadership aide told CNN…

“If they send something over with cuts we could probably accept it,” said one Senate Democratic leadership aide…

Rep. Tim Scott. R-South Carolina, a Tea Party-backed freshman who was elected by his colleagues to serve as liaison to the House GOP leadership, told CNN Monday, “the time is short for the Senate to come up with on a long-term solution so we are prepared for a short term conversation on a short term [spending bill].”

Don’t count too heavily on that Democratic leadership aide in thinking that the Senate will accept a short fix with small cuts. Chuck Schumer told the Wall Street Journal that they want no cuts at all in the temporary bill, that Obama’s spending freeze should be good enough. Can’t say I blame him. Why not test the GOP’s mettle on this? They’ve already demoralized the base with last week’s vote. Why not try to force them to cave on the short-term bill and demoralize conservatives even further?

Mind you, this surreal debate about how small cuts should have to be comes in the context of a story in WaPo announcing that federal, state, and local debt now exceeds the total size of the economy. That’s happened before, after World War II, but some of that debt ended up being paid down by a young population during an age of economic growth. Now we’ve got the opposite problem — a lingering recession and an entitlement load from Baby Boomers from which there’s seemingly no escape. The ship is going down, yet even a sum as paltry as $60 billion in cuts is somehow so unimaginable that we need a two-week patch on the budget to give us extra time to weigh whether we should do it. We’re truly doomed.