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Leaders up the ante on government shutdown threat

From NBC’s Shawna Thomas and Carrie Dann 
At least some Congressional leaders aren’t backing down from a confrontation that could have Washington D.C. partying like it’s 1995.

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he will not support a temporary measure to fund the government at current levels, even if a larger federal spending bill  – called a “continuing resolution” – does not pass before a March 4 deadline. If no agreement is reached on the stopgap measure, a federal shutdown akin to one in the mid-1990s could result until a funding bill is passed.

"I'm not going to move any kind of short-term [continuing resolution] at current levels," Boehner told reporters today. "When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips: we’re going to cut spending.”

While some GOP leaders are downplaying the threat of another prolonged federal closure, Boehner’s unequivocal call to require at least some cuts from 2010 spending levels in order to keep the federal government’s lights on isn’t sitting well with Democrats, who accuse House Republicans of engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken.

His remark prompted a furious and almost immediate response from Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, who appeared before cameras shortly after Boehner’s press conference to slam the House leader.

“We are terribly disappointed that Speaker Boehner can't control the votes in this Congress to prevent a shutdown of government,” Reid said. “And now he is resorting to threats to do just that without any negotiation.”

Asked whether Boehner will stick to his promise to cut spending even if it results in a federal blackout, a spokesman said that blame for a shutdown should be pinned on the Democrats, not on the GOP.

"All the Speaker said is that any short-term [continuing resolution] must cut spending," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "If Sen. Reid wants to shut down the government rather than cut spending, that’s entirely on him."

The last government shutdown occurred in December 1995, when clashes between President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled House prompted the halting of many federal services and caused thousands of federal employees to stay home on furlough.

That political battle ultimately resulted in a popularity boost for Clinton. A Gallup poll released during the shutdown showed that only a quarter of Americans faulted the president for the shuttering of some federal agencies while nearly half blamed congressional Republicans.