Seizing on Friday’s deal, which would cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget, activists on Tuesday threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if Obama goes too far with further cuts.
“The fundamental problem in our country right now is unemployment and a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, an advocacy group for the poor. “It appears the president is fighting on the wrong terrain and is conceding that the only thing we should be talking about is how to bring down the deficit.”
The clash over government spending — coming as Obama prepares to make a major speech on fiscal discipline Wednesday — is the latest example of the frayed relations between the president and a broad coalition of union and activist groups.
The dispute also underscores a key question about what will define the coming year for Obama: an attempt to defend longtime Democratic priorities over Republican objections or an effort to seek compromise and control the national debt.
The White House is responding to concerns about spending cuts by saying that the president is working to preserve important programs that help the economy grow — such as investments in education — while taking seriously the need to reduce the debt. The White House also has said that any reductions in government entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid must be accompanied by tax increases on the rich and cuts in defense spending.
“We can take a balanced approach toward reducing our deficit in the long term while protecting the investments which will enable us to grow in the 21st century,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The White House on Tuesday dispatched David Plouffe, one of Obama’s senior advisers, to meet with progressive groups at their routine coordinating meeting at the Capital Hilton, according to people knowledgeable about the meeting.
In the past, Obama has expressed exasperation with left-leaning groups because they had not credited him with achieving some of their goals, such as making affordable health care more widely available, under difficult political circumstances.
Since the budget deal was reached Friday, the White House has sounded two competing themes. It has trumpeted the cuts as being among the largest annual spending reductions in history, while arguing that they wouldn’t undermine economic activity.
“[W]hile the level of cuts was high . . . it does not have a negative impact on our economy,” Carney said. “The highest principle the president took into this negotiation was that we must not do anything that harms our recovery.”