US President Barack Obama, center, walks to a July 31 meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Obama told Senate Democrats on Wednesday he will not give Pentagon spending special treatment when he begins negotiating several fiscal deals with Republicans.
Obama came to Capitol Hill for a pre-August recess powwow with congressional Democrats. He huddled with House and Senate Democrats in separate hour-long meetings that focused on a range issues, including plans for upcoming negotiations about the nation’s borrowing limit, averting a government shutdown, and a sequestration-addressing “grand bargain” fiscal deal.
Lawmakers this week say talks on all three issues have begun among various groups on Capitol Hill, as well with White House staffers.
Lawmakers expect those talks to kick into high gear as soon as they return here Sept. 9.
When negotiations start, expect Democrats — including the negotiator in chief — to resist any Republican efforts to shield Pentagon spending from some level of future budget cuts, as well as from GOP efforts to turn off only the defense portion of pending $500 billion, decade-spanning sequestration cuts set into motion earlier this year.
“On sequestration ... he will not protect defense at the detriment of non-defense spending,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters, speaking of Obama after emerging from the meeting.
“He indicated that what the [House] Republicans always do is send us over bills — military construction, [veterans affairs], defense — and then they pass that and leave the rest of the American world without any help,” Reid said.
House Republicans in the past have passed legislation that proposed spending increases in those areas, while passing other measures that proposed deep cuts to domestic entitlement programs favored by Democrats.
Reid’s take way from Obama’s comments: “We’re not going to do that this time.”
Asked by Defense News about how Obama described how defense spending will fit into his negotiating strategy this fall, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., replied: “He’s not going to single out defense for different treatment than other programs impacted by sequester.”