Obama warns he'll block any attempt to avoid debt deal spending triggers

President Obama has warned leaders of the supercommittee he will not accept any effort to turn off a mechanism enforcing spending cuts if the panel fails to reach a deal to reduce the deficit.

In a Friday phone call to the co-chairmen of the 12-member panel, Obama told Congress it “must not shirk its responsibilities,” according to a White House readout of the conversation. 

“The sequester was agreed to by both parties to ensure there was a meaningful enforcement mechanism to force a result from the committee,” the readout from the White House said. “The American people deserve to have their leaders come together and make the tough choices necessary to live within our means, just as American families do every day in these tough economic times.”

Under last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling, Congress approved legislation that mandates the supercommittee find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts by Nov. 23. If it fails, or if Congress fails to approve its plan, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic spending are triggered.

Both parties want to avoid those cuts, and Republicans are especially keen to avoid cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

Obama spoke to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (R-Wash.), the two co-chairmen, according to a White House release. He did so before embarking on a trip that will take him to Hawaii, Indonesia and Australia for more than a week.

Numerous member of Congress, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have said they would try to void the triggers.

Credit rating agencies have said that while a supercommittee failure would not automatically mean another downgrade of the U.S. rating, failure combined with a cancellation of the triggers would be viewed very negatively.

Obama reminded Hensarling and Murray of the detailed recommendations the White House delivered to the supercommittee in September and urged a “balanced” deal that includes new revenue, the White House said.

The GOP this week put forward a $1.2 trillion plan that included $300 billion in new net tax revenue, but Democrats rejected it in large part because the deal included locking in Bush era tax rates for the wealthy.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he feels "bound" by the triggers and opposes removing them. 

“It was part of the agreement. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we don’t want anybody to go there. That’s why we have to succeed," he said.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said she was unsure of the debt-reduction panel's chances of success.

"You know, I can't even say I'm cautiously optimistic at this point. There are glimmers of hope and I know that all members and I know that all the members of the supercommittee are patriotic and want to make sure that we do what's best for the country,"  Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Friday on CNN. "I hope there's enough desire to put partisan politics aside, not think about the elections and work together so we can get this done."

Daniel Strauss contributed.

This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.