My heart sank when I read it, but look at it this way: Is this really the hill you want to die on? The GOP’s proposed budget cuts, while steep by normal standards, are nothing more than a token to please the base. Whether we end up cutting $100 billion or $60 billion or $10 billion doesn’t matter; it’s chump change if you’re focused on a long-term fix for the budget. The real money is in entitlements, so the idea (I hope) is to use these early budget fights to cultivate an image of “reasonable, responsible” fiscal solutions and then use that cred later to sell Social Security and Medicare reform as both reasonable and responsible. Hence the need to avoid a shutdown, which might — might — generate a lasting backlash.

Or am I rationalizing?

Fully 65 percent of Republicans say it’s not in their interest to play this game of chicken. Can you feel the despair?

“The Republicans look awful if there’s a government shutdown and they are seen to have caused it,” said one GOP Insider. “I remember how the last shutdown went and find it impossible to believe this one could go any better,” said another.

Indeed, several recalled how a new Republican House Speaker empowered by a huge victory in the midterm elections was outmaneuvered by a first term Democratic President. “As Bill Clinton proved, the president has the bully pulpit in these situations, something Newt Gingrich never recovered from,” recalled a GOP Insider. Another cautioned of the possible shutdown: “We always think it’s a good idea until we do it and get our butt kicked when real people start suffering for it.”

So there’s your new rule of fiscal conservatism: No budget-balancing if real people will suffer from it. If you guys need me, I’ll be over here in the corner curled up in the fetal position.

But wait. Perhaps there’s hope yet:

A clear majority of independents don’t think the Democrats’ cuts go far enough and a plurality of independents don’t think the GOP’s cuts go far enough. Maybe that explains the news tonight that Democrats are preparing a new budget for the rest of the year that involves some cuts of their own. Supposedly they’ll agree to eliminate more than $8 billion in earmarks and speed up some of the $24 billion in cuts that Obama proposed for next year’s budget. Good enough? If not, prepare to be clubbed over the head in the media with the new Goldman Sachs analysis claiming that the GOP’s proposal could shave off as much as two percent from GDP growth this year. Exit quotation from Eric Cantor’s dopey Harvard hecklers tonight: “Budget Cuts Kill!”