Washington (CNN) - Senate Democratic leaders organized a conference call with reporters Friday to pound away at one of their central political messages - Republicans are risking a government shutdown over spending differences.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, cited comments from House Republican Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, quoted in a CNN.COM story, saying it is a "possibility" that the fight over spending cuts could lead to a government shutdown.
Simpson, a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, also said "we're going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen."
Still, Democratic leaders pounced.
"We are willing to meet the Republicans in the middle on cutting spending but they keep lurching to the right, and this infighting is causing delays that will take these negotiations right up to the deadline and a government shutdown and that seems to be exactly what Republicans want," said Schumer.
Conservatives are forcing House GOP leaders to cut more spending this year than they had planned, in order to live up to the Republican pledge to cut $100 billion in spending before the end of the year.
It was already going to be hard to negotiate whatever spending cuts come out of the House with the Democratic led Senate. With even deeper cuts, it will be more difficult to come to an agreement on a spending bill. The current government funding bill expires on March 4th.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor hit back at the Democratic senators, saying their statements "are akin to shouting fire in a crowded theater and only serve as a distraction from the fact that Democrats aren't willing to work with us to cut spending and create jobs."
"If we want to get our economy growing again so that Americans can get back to work, it's time for both political parties to stop the scare tactics and get serious. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the leadership in the Senate is there yet," said Cantor.
If negotiations over the spending bill are not complete by March 4th, Congress could always avoid a government shut down by passing another short term measure – known as a continuing resolution – to keep the government running.
In response to a question by CNN, both Reid and Schumer said they would reluctantly support a short term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.
"I think it would be really not good for this country to have a series of short CR's [continuing resolutions] but we will do everything we can do to stop a government shutdown. What the American people want now, what the business community wants now is certainty," said Reid.
House GOP leadership aides told CNN it was premature to say whether short term measures to keep the government running could pass the Republican led House, but they could face resistance from conservatives.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders could hardly contain their glee about the tough time House GOP leaders have had this week coming up with a spending measure that satisfies newly elected conservatives.
"There is a mad rush to the far right on the House side right now. The House leadership seems to be unable to stand up to their freshmen conservatives on either the drastic level of cuts they want or their desire to shut down the government to get their way," said Schumer.