* Seeks to generate outrage among voters after Friday
* First step in protracted partisan battle
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 The White House, while
advancing an aggressive public relations campaign to highlight
the damaging effects of $85 billion in automatic spending cuts,
is largely resigned to the fact that they will go into effect on
With no deal expected in the few days remaining until the
cuts kick in, President Barack Obama is pursuing a strategy
aimed at generating outrage among Americans that he hopes will
force Republicans to come to the negotiating table and agree to
his demand for higher taxes after the cuts go into place.
The White House is well aware that Republicans need a
victory for their conservative supporters after they reluctantly
agreed to income tax increases for the wealthy at the end of
Officials reason that standing up to the president now and
ushering in across-the-board spending cuts, no matter how
onerous, would allow Republicans to show the conservative Tea
Party movement and other right-leaning supporters that they were
not steamrolled into raising tax revenues again.
Once that "victory" is achieved and the cuts go into effect
on March 1, officials hope real talks can begin in earnest to
turn them off and agree on a wider deal.
"I think it's put Republicans on notice that if they don't
act, they're going to own this, pure and simple," said
Democratic strategist Bud Jackson.
It is the latest step in yet another Washington budget
showdown as Obama seeks to use the political clout he feels he
earned by winning re-election in November to push forward
proposals aimed at improving the plight of the middle class.
The president has an aggressive agenda that includes tighter
gun control measures and an immigration overhaul, but he must
deal first with a budget morass that was partly of his own
The White House and Republicans in 2011 came up with the
idea for the automatic spending cuts, known as the "sequester,"
designing them to be so draconian that no one would ever let
them take place.
Now that they are about to become a reality, top government
officials have warned of dire results such as long security
lines at airports and insufficiently guarded borders as a way of
preparing Americans for what to expect and, more strategically,
to encourage them to complain to their lawmakers in Congress.
The White House says it has little flexibility in
determining where the cuts will take place, rejecting claims
from Republicans that the president could make trims that would
be less economically damaging. "You can't change the fact that
the impact will be heavy," said White House spokesman Jay
The risk of this strategy, experts say, is that the public
may not perceive the cuts to be as bad as advertised and fails
to get outraged.
"It's a legitimate tactic," said David Yepsen, director of
the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois
University. "The danger is if the sequester goes into effect and
the sky doesn't fall, people will say we're getting along fine."
Republicans are not budging on Obama's insistence that tax
revenues be included in a short- or long-term deal, and
Democrats are unwilling to accept the view of many Republicans
that spending cuts alone can be used to tackle the budget
So a standstill has devolved into a game of waiting out the
other side, and both sides seem to have accepted that means the
cuts are inevitable.
There has been no substantive contact between Obama and
Republican leaders of Congress since the last fiscal crisis at
the end of 2012, when Republicans accepted higher taxes on the
"Reaching a deadline and passing a deadline sometimes then
produces increased pressure on the parties to come to a deal,"
said one Democratic strategist.
"There's time after the clock runs out, and I just think
both sides are keenly aware of that, too," he said.
Obama himself has indicated he is hopeful a deal can be
reached before March 1.
"Hope springs eternal," he said during a meeting with the
prime minister of Japan last Friday, when asked in the Oval
Office about the possibility of averting the cuts.
But the reality is that the cuts are almost certain to take
effect, at least for a few weeks, until serious negotiations get
(Editing by Fred Barbash, Martin Howell, Doina Chiacu)