President Barack Obama strongly urged leaders of Congress' deficit supercommittee on Friday to press hard for a bipartisan deal on slashing deficits before a fast-approaching Thanksgiving deadline and not to look for an end run around a key enforcement mechanism, his spokesman said Friday.
Press secretary Jay Carney said Obama spoke to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, by phone from Air Force One as he flew to San Diego. They are the two top leaders of the 17-member bipartisan panel.
Carney said Obama urged the two in separate calls to "achieve what is eminently achievable." The committee is supposed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in new deficit cuts over the next decade by Nov. 23.
The president was on the first leg of a nine-day trip that will take him to a Pacific Rim conference in Hawaii, a visit to Australia, to an East Asia summit in Indonesia.
There has been some talk on Capitol Hill of softening the triggering mechanism for automatic cuts since a compromise seemed so difficult.
But Carney said that, even though there's no formal legislative bid for such a move, the president made clear that he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off the automatic cut trigger.
It was agreed to by both parties during negotiations on a debt-limit increase last August to ensure there is a meaningful enforcement mechanism to force a result from the Committee. "Congress must not shirk its responsibilities," Carney said.
"He made clear he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the enforcement mechanism."
Carney said Obama told both leaders that Obama said their finished product must contain both sources of new revenue, or taxes, as well as spending cuts.
While there is no measure at this time on which to warn of a possible veto, "We heard of discussions on Capitol Hill about turning off the sequester," Carney said.
If a deal is reached for less than the $1.2 trillion, the difference would be made up for in across-the-board cuts divided evenly between defense and domestic programs.
If the committee failed entirely the entire $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would begin to fall in 2013.
It would particularly hit the Pentagon hard. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Pentagon would have about $450 billion less to spend over the next 10 years than current projections.
Carney said the threat of deep defense cuts was needed by the supercommittee to "prod it to reach the finish line."
Obama "made clear he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the enforcement mechanism," Carney said.
The automatic triggers were put in place as a powerful incentive for lawmakers to reach a compromise. But in recent days, the chances of a deficit-reduction deal appear to have dimmed.