The change in tone has been evident in repeated and little-noticed veto threats over the past few weeks by Obama, who has rarely issued the warnings with such frequency. He has made it clear that he will not sign into law Republican spending bills that slash domestic programs even more deeply than sequestration.
If Republicans do not relent and the White House sticks to its position, a shutdown would be likely at the end of September, when Congress must authorize a new measure to fund the government.
The discussions at the White House illustrate the extent to which the looming budget battle is worrying the administration, which is seeking to advance Obama’s second-term agenda in the face of GOP opposition.
White House officials also are discussing a potential strategy to try to stop the sequestration cuts from continuing, the lawmakers and Democrats said. Under this scenario, the president might refuse to sign a new funding measure that did not roll back the sequester. No decision has been made.
But some of Obama’s top economic advisers fear that they may not be able to stop what they consider damaging cuts without a sharper confrontation, the sources said. Other advisers are urging a more cautious course, saying it would be better for Obama to seek a more targeted agreement that would increase funding for a smaller set of priorities.
Obama would still prefer to replace all the domestic and defense cuts with a long-term budget deal and avoid talk of a shutdown, according to the people familiar with the discussions. But some White House officials consider the Sept. 30 date the last chance to cancel a portion of the sequestration cuts before the 2014 midterm elections.
White House officials are all but resigned to any potential budget agreement lasting just a year or two — not the long-term fiscal pact they have sought.
Negotiations have not started on Capitol Hill, where the two parties are far apart, and many officials on both sides are skeptical that any agreement will be found before the September deadline. Senate Democrats are advancing spending bills worth $1.058 trillion, while Republicans are assuming a total spending level of $967 billion.
The White House is likely to frame any government shutdown as a consequence of Republicans protecting the wealthy at the expense of the nation’s economy and poor.
But Republicans are portraying Obama’s increasingly confrontational tone — which has been on display this week as he began a series of economic speeches — as a way to pull more taxes from the rich to fuel additional government spending.