What if House Republicans are in such disarray that they can’t pass anything funding the government this fall?

In a new interview with the Hill that contains clues to the coming confrontation, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen makes it clear Dems are increasingly asking that question as shutdown fever continues to grow among conservatives — and as GOP leaders continue to try to tamp it down. The core point: if GOP divisions translate into more leverage for Dems this fall, they have a chance to get it right this time, as opposed to what happened in the 2011 spending and debt limit fights, when Dems essentially acquiesced to the austerity frame that continues to damage the country today.

One key factor that could shape the budget battles, as Jonathan Bernstein explains, is that House Republicans may not be able to pass anything funding the government even at cut spending levels Republicans themselves say they want (in principle), because they are “stuck between some members who are never satisfied with any level of spending cuts and others who object to those very unpopular cuts.”

This could mean Republicans may need Dems to pass a measure to avoid the shutdown that many believe will be politically disastrous to their party. Van Hollen says Dems will use this as leverage to try to undo some of austerity’s continuing damage.

“In the House when you have a got a core group of hard-right Republicans that oppose any kind of negotiated agreement, that obviously means that House Democrats have to be at the negotiating table,” Van Hollen told the Hill. “Because [Boehner] cannot control his caucus, that gives House Democrats more leverage.”

Van Hollen added Dems will lay down three core principles: No negotiating on the debt limit. No restoring defense spending without hikes in domestic spending. And no entitlement cuts without tax increases (here clarification is needed; what kind of benefit cuts would this entail?)

All of this is absolutely crucial stuff. As I noted here the other day, Dems have an opportunity to make amends for the failures of 2011. With GOP disarray what it is, in the short term probably the best we can hope for is a temporary measure funding the government at current levels. But what matters is the long term. The path to a long term deal runs through the Senate, where a handful of GOP Senators — particularly those who want to undo sequester cuts to defense — have signaled a willingness to compromise. If that happens, pressure would mount on the House. Throughout, Dems must stick to core principles designed to avoid the mistakes of 2011. It’s good to see Van Hollen has begun to establish them.

[T]he nation’s role as an international leader in scientific research is at risk. Moreover, the money being cut now will have lasting damage, both economic and medical, as cures to diseases are left undiscovered and treatments left unearthed.

Read the whole thing. Inside the Beltway, the sequester continues to be covered as a tale of political winners and losers, in which the administration botched the “optics” by overestimating the public anger that would result. But the sequester continues to do real damage nonetheless.

 * CONSERVATIVES CONTINUE DEMANDING SHUTDOWN: Heritage Action for America, one of the conservative groups demanding a government shutdown confrontation to defund Obamacare, has released some new polling that supposedly shows support for the idea in selected House districts, a sign the demand for a shutdown isn’t abating.

This doesn’t take into account of how voters would react once a shutdown gets underway — Republicans who remember the mid-1990s denounce the idea as insane — but the shutdown brigade only seizes on such warnings as proof that the “establishment” is too soft to take the fight to Obama.

* WHERE DOES MITCH MCCONNELL STAND ON SHUTDOWN? Here’s the Senate GOP leader on how to get rid of Obamacare, in an interview with WKYT:

“We need to get rid of it. And I think we get rid of it piece by piece.”

This comes awfully close to saying that this approach makes more sense than a shutdown push, though it stops just short of that. As noted here yesterday, McConnell can’t avoid taking sides forever in the dispute over whether to pursue a shutdown.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen proposes a new title for McConnell: “Senate Minority Bystander.”

* CONGRESS MUST ACT ON SENTENCING REFORM: The New York Times has a good editorial making a crucial point about Eric Holder’s recent proposals for reform of drug-war-era sentencing: If Congress doesn’t codify reform, a future president could simply reverse the changes the Attorney General is currently making as to how prosecutors bring charges, undoing whatever progress takes place.

As best as I can determine, key lawmakers to watch here — Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee, such as Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch — have yet to comment on the proposals.

Vanden Heuvel notes that cultural issues (gay rights, gun control) have united the Democratic coalition in a way that masks the need for unity around a more populist economic agenda, and that robust progressivism on this front from prominent Democrats around the country (see Warren, Elizabeth) can help change that.

* CORY BOOKER IS ON HIS WAY TO THE SENATE: Booker romped to victory in the primary last night, and he’s expected to prevail the October special election easily. The Week’s Peter Weber has a useful guide to all the reasons liberal writers are already seeing Booker as a disappointment.

Doug Mataconis has the counter-argument: “the animus toward Booker on the left has been more than a little surprising especially considering that he is going to be a reliable Democratic vote for as long as he’s in the Senate…quite a long time.”

 * AND THE GOP HAS PLENTY OF TIME TO SCREW UP SENATE MAP: Caitlin Huey-Burns has a good overview of all the ways the Senate map continues to favor Republicans, and all the ways they can still make a hash of things. Remember, in 2012 the map favored Republicans, too, and primaries and bad candidates ended up giving Dems a string of victories. While the midterm electorate will certainly be different from last year’s, the early signs are that some of the same patterns may be forming.

What else?