WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney categorically dismissed on Monday the idea that the president would change the construction of the cuts triggered by the super committee's failure to make them more lenient on defense spending.
"Congress voted to impose this sequester to hold its own feet to the fire, to get it to act," said Carney. "To suggest that they should undo what they did just a few months ago, to declare to the world as they did when they held this vote on the Budget Control Act -– 'We are going to hold ourselves responsible' -- and then a few months later say 'never mind,' that's not acceptable."
A day earlier, super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) had argued that the sequester came with wiggle room, despite President Barack Obama's threat to veto efforts to lessen its blow. The White House, Toomey said, may insist that a total of $1.2 trillion in cuts take place as a result of the super committee failing to reach an agreement. But it might be open to decreasing the $600 billion of those cuts set to come from the defense budget in favor of cutting more elsewhere.
This, too, has been the suspicion of Democrats on the Hill who find it difficult to imagine that the president would stand by deep defense budget cuts during an election year and worry that programs like Medicare will end up being gutted further instead. But on Monday, Carney tried to end that chatter.
"Changing it is undoing it," he said. "The whole purpose of the design of the sequester was to make it so onerous for everybody that it would never come to pass. To change it so that it is not so onerous only relieves pressure on Congress. And obviously Congress needs an immense amount of pressure to get positive things done."
"The president made clear that the sequester should remain in place," he added. "Congress passed a law holding itself responsible and accountable and they should do the right thing to get it done. So there is no wiggle room."
There was, notably, no use of the word "veto" in Carney's statement. But his language was fairly adamant and specific. Obama, in the end, is in the driver's seat on this particular issue. For starters, Republicans voted for this specific sequester. Moreover, if Congress does not approve changes to the trigger, Obama's preferred outcome takes place. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has expressed his own concerns with the defense cuts. But on Monday, Carney said he was "sure" that president and Panetta have discussed those reservations.