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Obama gives Dems marching orders

President Obama put Republicans on notice Wednesday that he will reject any fiscal deal that only spares the Pentagon from budget cuts.

Seeking party unity, Obama met with congressional Democrats in both chambers to prepare them for the budget battle that will greet them in the fall.

His message was unequivocal: no negotiating with Republicans on a debt-ceiling increase and no reductions in the sequester cuts to defense unless domestic programs are spared as well.

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“He’s not going to accept sequestration restoration for the military any greater than in domestic. He’s not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling,” Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill Harris to preside over Senate for voting rights debate MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, told reporters after Senate Democrats met with Obama in a room off the Senate floor. 

The meetings took place shortly before White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors met with a group of Senate Republicans to discuss the possibility of a deficit-reduction deal later this year. 

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Heatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (S.C.), the leaders of the GOP group, want to relieve defense programs from tens of billions of dollars in cuts. 

But Obama made clear there’s no deal to be had unless Republicans agree to boost funding for other domestic programs that have fallen victim to the sequester’s ax. 

The president told Democrats that stimulating the economy should take priority over reducing the deficit. He argued that even as the federal deficit has dropped faster than projected, unemployment has remained stubbornly high. 

“Yes, acknowledge the role of public debt, but the public debt is coming down. What is not coming down as fast as we want is the unemployment,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (D-Md.), the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Obama gave lawmakers a sneak preview of what he would talk about while he travels the country in the coming weeks.

“We talked about his message on the road, his whole ideas of jobs, education, a secure environment and implementing ObamaCare,” Mikulski added.

White House aides passed out cards inscribed with the president’s August message. Entitled “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class,” it touted a five-point plan for job creation, education, mortgage accessibility, retirement security and affordable healthcare. 

Democrats said there is broad support within their caucuses for the president’s tough negotiating approach. 

“We’re not giving in on the debt-limit issue,” Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D-Alaska) said.

Obama’s entrenched position sets up a bruising budget fight when Congress returns to work in September. 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate GOP blocks voting rights bill Schumer, McConnell spar as GOP prepares to block voting bill Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says MORE (Ky.) has worked hard this week to whip his colleagues to vote against the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill because its spending levels do not reflect the automatic cuts known as sequestration. 

House Republicans have crafted spending bills that restore funding to defense programs by making cuts to domestic programs. Obama made clear Wednesday those bills would face staunch Democratic resistance. 

House Republicans suffered a setback Wednesday when House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) pulled his chamber’s version of the transportation spending bill off the floor. 

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the outcome shows that the lower chamber is not willing to accept steep cuts to domestic programs to shore up defense. 

Rogers cautioned, however, that Congress is also unlikely to approve the higher spending levels advocated by the Senate. 

Raising the debt limit promises to be another nasty fight. Conservative Senate Republicans say they will not agree to extend the country’s borrowing authority unless Obama signs off on a plan putting the federal budget on a path to balance over the next decade. 

Obama rejected that demand in Wednesday’s meeting.  

Some Democrats said leaders should not postpone the budget showdown to the fall, when limited time is likely to force a round of intense brinkmanship. 

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Va.) said Congress should skip its August recess. 

“We haven’t got a budget deal. We don’t have appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. We’ve got this crazy word called ‘sequestration,’ ” Warner said in an interview on MSNBC. “We ought to stay here and do our work.”

Lawmakers used the rare meeting with Obama to raise other issues.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans MORE (D-N.H.) suggested that Obama assign his vaunted political analytics team, which helped him win reelection in 2012, to solving the backlog of cases at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Democrats familiar with the meeting. Obama suggested she get in touch with his chief of staff. 

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (D-La.), who faces a difficult reelection next year, grilled Obama on his administration’s handling of permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to senators who attended. 

Landrieu noted that more than 60 senators support the pipeline’s approval and asked why the administration hasn’t given it a green light yet. 

Obama remained noncommittal on the controversial pipeline and played down projections that it could have a dramatic effect on the economy.

“He was very careful about not telegraphing his decision,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseProgressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (D-R.I.) said. “But he showed a healthy skepticism about the exaggerated economic arguments supporting it.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: White House acknowledges it will fall short of July 4 vaccine goal | Fauci warns of 'localized surges' in areas with low vaccination rates | Senate Finance leader releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Flaming shipwreck wreaks havoc on annual sea turtle migration Senate Finance chair releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices MORE (D-Ore.) said Obama, anticipating the concerns of senators, raised the touchy subject of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. 

Obama emphasized that there have not been any instances of the spy agency abusing its power or intruding on privacy without justification. Offering an olive branch to his Senate critics, he proposed meeting with them to discuss the programs in detail.

— Mike Lillis and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.