While Republicans have criticized Obama for not engaging directly in the supercommittee negotiations, his hands-off approach was calculated, coming in the aftermath of his own failed attempts to strike a deficit deal with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. In a gridlocked Congress, Obama is more likely to lose if he gets deeply involved.
The detachment allows him to set a clear dividing line for voters, one in which he can cast Republicans as protecting the rich. It's a stance that for now has political appeal. A number of recent public opinion polls show that up to two-thirds of Americans support raising taxes on individuals earning more than $1 million, and about half favor raising taxes on families earning at least $250,000 a year.
Even if some Republicans were disposed to negotiate a new deficit-reduction plan, Obama's sharpening of the lines between the parties could drive them away.
"If the president has decided that he is now in full campaign mode, that's going to make things very difficult in terms of finding common ground," said David Winston, a GOP strategist who advises House Republican leaders.
Eager to maintain pressure on Congress, Obama this week issued a veto threat against any efforts to change the automatic spending cuts triggered by the supercommittee's inaction.
Aides said Obama did not prefer those cuts, but he made it clear that the threat of such cuts was essential to get Congress to act.
"There will be no easy off-ramps on this one," Obama said Monday. "We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure. The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion."
Republicans pounced on the veto threat, portraying Obama as indifferent to deep Pentagon reductions.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, said he found the veto threat "reprehensible." He added: "If Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest."
But Democrats, and Obama in particular, don't feel as vulnerable on defense as the party once was. Aides point to foreign policy advances, the killing of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, and the drawdown of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence that Obama has credibility on military issues.
But Carney this week also said that if critics worry about maintaining defense spending levels, "There is an easy way out here, which is be willing to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more in order to achieve this comprehensive and balanced deficit-reduction plan."
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