Obama Confronts Congress's Failure, Promises to Enforce Cuts

Will lawmakers have to abide by the across-the-board spending reductions laid out in the debt-limit deal?

Obama supercommmittee speech - AP Photo:Pablo Martinez Monsivais - banner.jpg

The supercommittee has failed, but President Obama is standing by the deal he made in August.

"My message to them is simple: No," Obama said during a brief televised speech on Wednesday, making it clear that lawmakers will be disappointed if they hope to simply avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts triggered by the deficit supercommittee's failure to agree on a plan.

"I will veto any effort to get rid of those spending cuts," the president said.

What's less clear is how, specifically, Congress's deficit-reduction process will now unfold -- and Obama seemed to leave some room for the legislature to avoid the consequences he pledged to enforce.

Leaders of the deficit supercommittee announced on Monday that they had failed to agree on a plan to cut spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and that the panel would not meet its Nov. 23 deadline to avoid the triggering of automatic, across-the-board cuts -- half from defense, and half from non-defense domestic spending. According to the Budget Control Act, which created the supercommittee as part of a deal to raise the federal debt limit in August, that panel would have to propose a plan by Nov. 23 and Congress would have to pass it by Dec. 23, otherwise those cuts would take effect.

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But Obama hinted on Monday night that Congress would have another year to work on the problem. As the law is written, the cuts will take effect in January 2013. The law directs Obama to order the Office of Management and Budget to lay them out and enact them in that month. So even though the president put his foot down on Congress's lapsed deadline, he also didn't.

"They're still got a year to figure it out," the president said during his speech from the White House. "They can still come together around a balanced plan. I believe Democrats are prepared to do so. My expect is that there are some Republicans who are interested in preventing the automatic cuts from taking place."

By "balanced," the president meant, as he typically does, a plan that reduced spending while also raising revenue through higher taxes on higher incomes. But Obama didn't make it entirely clear whether or not Congress could avoid the automatic cutting process by agreeing on such a plan over the next year, or before Dec. 23, or in the next two days.

If he gives Congress a year to work something out -- if he decides he will not order the automatic cuts, as the law requires, if an alternate deficit-reduction plan comes along -- the president could keep the incentive for Congress to act. And he could keep taxes and spending alive as a campaign issue, knowing that polls show most Americans agree with his "balanced" ideas about taxes.

Image credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP