WASHINGTON -- With the deadline fast approaching for the congressional super committee to make its deficit reduction recommendations, President Barack Obama phoned the committee's two co-chairs on Friday to urge swift action.
The White House released a sparse summary of the president's separate phone calls to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), made from aboard Air Force One. But one detail notably stood out.
The President also made clear that he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the sequester. The sequester was agreed to by both parties to ensure there was a meaningful enforcement mechanism to force a result from the Committee. Congress must not shirk its responsibilities. The American people deserve to have their leaders come together and make the tough choices necessary to live within our means, just as American families do every day in these tough economic times. The President urged the leaders to get this done.
There has been a lot of chatter on the Hill about changing the parameters of the trigger currently in place so that the cuts to the defense budget -- that would be made a year after the committee fails to reach a deal, should it fail to reach a deal -- would be softened. And the expectation among Democrats is that enough lawmakers within their party would join with Republicans to do just that.
The president's congressional outreach on Friday reaffirmed the White House's stance: that the triggers were put in place for a reason and shouldn't be adjusted. But the fact that Obama felt the need to make the point again, both privately over the phone and publicly in the form of a White House statement, suggests that the administration, too, is feeling the pressure to make changes.
In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, a senior administration official explained the president's thinking on this front. "Our view has always been that Congress should do its job," the official said. "These trigger mechanisms serve a purpose, which is to force action and we have always been opposed to efforts to take away the consequences for Congress' failure to act."
Added another official at the same briefing: "They just voted on this a couple months ago. To me, this is an issue where folks are looking for an easy off-ramp. Our view is the only way to avoid the sequester is to do the job that they have been mandated to do."