ONCE AGAIN, the federal government is days away from a shutdown. It is time for this silly brinkmanship to stop.

Republicans purport to be concerned about dealing with the budget deficit and securing spending cuts. If that is their goal, they ought to declare victory and move on to the serious work ahead.

Senate Democrats and the Obama administration appear prepared to cut $33 billion in spending — more than the amount originally proposed by House Republicans until their Tea Party wing revolted and demanded more. To insist on an arbitrary figure — $61 billion — derived from an arbitrary campaign goal — $100 billion — is sheer folly. So is wasting any more time arguing about this sliver of federal spending in a fiscal year that is already more than half over. Limping along from continuing resolution to continuing resolution is irresponsible; shutting down the government for days or weeks over this dispute would be even worse. The fiscal 2012 budget needs to be written; more important, it is time for the adult conversation on entitlement reform that both sides keep promising. The 2011 debate is a trivial sideshow to this main event.

That assumes, of course, that the Republicans’ goal is simply to deal with the deficit. But that is not all that the House version of spending legislation would do. Instead, the House-passed measure would use the appropriations vehicle to implement all sorts of policy changes, from defunding Planned Parenthood to defanging the Environmental Protection Agency to derailing health reform and financial regulation.

These riders have at most a tangential relationship to deficit cutting. They represent serious policy differences that are fair subjects for debate — but not a legitimate basis for holding the government hostage. Democrats have made significant compromises in trying to resolve the dispute and avoid a shutdown. It remains to be seen whether House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has enough control over his caucus members to get them to understand that.