Washington (CNN) - House Speaker John Boehner ratcheted up a looming showdown with Senate Democrats and the President over government funding Thursday that Democrats warn could lead to a government shutdown two weeks from now.
At issue: a spending measure currently funding the government expires on March 4th. Republicans are debating a bill that would cut government spending by over $60 billion, but Senate Democrats call those cuts far too deep. Assuming the two sides can't reach agreement in the next two weeks, a short term measure to keep the government running would need to pass.
But Boehner Thursday said that he would not allow a stopgap measure at current spending levels.
"I am not going to move any kind of short term CR [continuing resolution] at current levels," Boehner said. Echoing a politically charged phrase by former President George H. W. Bush, Boehner added, "When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips, we're going to cut spending."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rushed to the cameras to accuse Boehner of threatening to shut down the government.
"We're terribly disappointed that Speaker Boehner can't control the votes in his caucus to prevent a shutdown of government and now he's resorting to threats to do just that without any negotiations, " Reid said.
A Boehner spokesman said later that the Speaker was not suggesting a short term CR wouldn't pass, and underscored he was saying it wouldn't pass at current spending levels
"If Sen. Reid is unwilling to listen to the American people and cut spending in a temporary CR, he will be responsible for the government shut-down he and Sen. Schumer are rooting for," Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, told CNN in an email.
Neither Boehner nor his spokesman said exactly how much government spending would have to be cut for a short term measure to keep the government running.
But as dug in as Boehner may be about not passing even a short term measure to keep the government running without some additional spending cuts, Senate Democrats are standing just as firm in saying they will only consider a stop gap measure if it funds the government at current spending levels.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that their spending plan "starts and stops" with current funding levels.
In fact, Senate Democrats huddled later Thursday to discuss the issue, and emerged with a new message: what they are proposing - keeping the government running at current levels – is actually $41 billion in spending cuts.
Senate leaders including Reid, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, each made that case to reporters separately in the hallway.
Their argument: House Republicans claim their plan is $100 billion in spending cuts, compared to the President's 2011 budget proposal – which was never enacted.
Senate Democrats say following that math, their push to fund the government at current levels adds up to $41 billion in spending cuts.
"We have proposed a cut of $41 billion from the presidents 2011 number, they've proposed &100 billion, both are rather significant cuts and we should sit down and negotiate this like adults," said Schumer.
Schumer, along with other Senate Democrats, made clear they believe those negotiations – whenever they start – will last beyond the March 4th deadline for the government funding to expire.
Therefore, they say Senate Democrats are likely to bring the short term measure to the Senate floor when they return from congressional recess Feb 28th.