President Obama warned congress that he would insist on activating the debt triggers that would lead to automatic budget cuts across the board if the supercommittee fails to find the cuts mandated under the debt ceiling agreement from last summer.
President Obama called the Democratic and Republican chairmen of Congress's special deficit reduction supercommittee Friday and urged them to reach a deal, as the panel's deadline for agreeing on a strategy to slash the nation's debt rapidly approaches.
In separate phone calls, Obama urged Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) to find a way to steer the 12-member bipartisan panel to an agreement, the White House said.
But he also carried another message: Congress should not undo the painful consequences for failing to reach a deal that were agreed to when the supercommittee was created in the August debt deal.
According to that agreement, if the committee of six senators and six representatives deadlocks, budgets will be cut automatically by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.
Half of those cuts would come from the Pentagon, a prospect daunting enough that leading lawmakers have suggested the cuts should be repealed.
But the so-called sequester could not be undone without a sign-off from Obama, and he made clear Friday that he would not agree.
How serious is he? My take is that internal White House polling is showing that if he were to insist on the debt triggers going forward, the American people would largely back him up. It will show that he is serious about the debt while congress is less so. It would also show that he's a strong leader - which has been one of the knocks on Obama since his numbers started to plummet.
But will he really allow such a huge hit on Medicare and Social Security? Democrats will scream bloody murder but if it helps him get elected, I doubt whether the president will listen to them.
The question isn't whether the Amerian people believes he will do it; it's whether congress is convinced he will that matters.