Last week, Congressional Democrats were blindsided by newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who basically nixed any further cuts to military spending, and demanded that lawmakers trim from programs like Medicare and raise taxes to reduce future deficits.
Soon a new deficit Super Committee will begin debating tax and entitlement reform, and the penalty if they gridlock includes steep defense cuts. Republicans are expected to seize on Panetta's remarks to push for another deficit deal that comes exclusively from entitlement cuts. So Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) called on President Obama to repudiate Panetta.
Obama did precisely the opposite in his White House speech Monday. "Our challenge is the need to tackle our deficits over the long term last week we reached an historic agreement -- reached an agreement that weill make historic cuts to defense and domestic spending," Obama said. "But there's not much further that we can cut in either of those categories. What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare."
Obama also vowed to send the Super Committee his own deficit reduction recommendations. But Republicans are already locking themselves into against any plan that increases tax revenues. If they remain locked in, the question is whether Obama and Democrats would be willing to pull the trigger on the penalty or whether they'll cave to GOP demands again.
What he said Monday suggests he doesn't think the penalty is a viable option.