That’s because the broad framework for spending was already essentially set last year, when Obama and Republican leaders agreed to pair an increase in the debt limit with across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon and other federal agencies valued at $1 trillion over the next decade. Those cuts and other policies being discussed by the White House and Republicans would just barely satisfy the approximately $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade both sides believe is necessary.
“It’s clear there is a restraint that’s already built into the deal of 2011,” said John Podesta, chairman of the White House-aligned Center for American Progress.
“He’s going to have to find more savings to double up on his investments on his priorities,” Podesta added. “The problem is if he doesn’t get the higher revenues [from the current negotiations] they’ll be even further pressured to cut back even further.”
Another outside ally familiar with White House strategy described the likely second-term agenda this way: “It feels more piecemeal and small-ball. The way they’ve structured this fight, they will not have free dollars on the table.” The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration thinking. White House officials declined to comment for this story.
Top Obama aides have shown flashes of frustration that the budget situation will not give them much freedom to operate in the future on programs they see as critical, particularly if they fail to move Republicans further on raising revenues.
“Those numbers are tight now. They are very tight,” said Gene B. Sperling, Obama’s top economics adviser, during a speech last week at the Brookings Institution. “At some point you just start trading off between whether you want a nutrition program or you want biomedical research and you want early childhood. And that’s not a good place to be.”
Obama’s 2013 budget plan, cited by the administration as a basis for negotiations, reflects scaled-back aspirations. The plan, for instance, calls for increasing overall research and development by 1.4 percent next year — a modest goal for a president who has long advocated big, new investments in research programs.
Still, Obama’s new negotiating style during this month’s standoff has left an impression, both among his allies, who are pleased, and his GOP foes, who appear rattled.
His take-no-prisoners approach, refusing to give ground on his demand that tax rates go up for the highest-earning Americans, stands in contrast to his past efforts at negotiation, when many liberals felt he gave too much away too early.