Responding to criticism from liberal Democrats, White House officials said Sunday night that the deal President Obama helped broker provides a path to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy while protecting domestic programs.
The president won major concessions, officials said, by ensuring the debt limit is not "held hostage" and up for another vote in just a few months and also by protecting domestic programs including Pell Grants and Medicaid.
The officials said that no matter what, the Bush tax cuts for the rich will end, whether by veto if Republicans push them along, by the failure of the super committee for tax reform to act or when they expire in January 2013.
"This is a framework for a long-term solution," one administration official said. "A long-term solution will have to include revenues in it."
Shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday night, Obama talked to all four congressional leaders, who all agreed on the compromise deal.
The deal attracted Democratic support in part because of its trigger mechanism. If Congress fails to act on raising the debt limit again, the trigger would go into effect in December and automatically cut domestic and defense spending 50-50 beginning in January 2013.
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One senior official said that the president is not interested in cutting defense spending that much, but by putting defense on the table, the cuts ensure that the 12 members of the special committee — especially the Republicans — will have impetus to reach deals on spending cuts, tax reforms and entitlement reforms.
What's more, Democrats will rally behind the deal because it ensures that programs for the poor will not be cut in either the first round of spending cuts or if the trigger kicks in.
One senior official acknowledged that the cuts in the first tranch, a little less than $1 trillion, were "obviously tough, but ones we think the economy can absorb and are done in a fair way."
While Medicare is part of the trigger mechanism, it is capped at 2 percent cuts and that would not include beneficiary payments.
"There's a collar around Medicare," one official said.
The 2013 kick-in dates for the 50-50 cuts, which one official described as "a kind of a backup," allows Congress to act if the super committee fails.
That date also coincides with when the Bush tax cuts would expire, officials said, ensuring their demise one way or another.
With Democrats spending much of Sunday hammering Obama for conceding too much, officials at the White House said that those members had been reacting to misinformation, particularly reports that the trigger would enact across-the-board cuts.
"The more people learn about the sequestration, the more comfortable they'll become with it," one official said.