President Obama phoned the bipartisan co-chairs of the deficit reduction supercommittee on Friday as the bipartisan members head into a critical weekend of negotiations.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the president had called Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) from Air Force One today to urge the 12-member supercommittee to strike a "balanced" deal by its rapidly approaching deadline.
According to Carney, the president told the leaders that he would reject any attempt to repeal the automatic cuts that would be triggered if the group fails to reach agreement on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The automatic cuts, which includes $600 billion slashed from the defense budget, were installed as a backstop in the August deal to raise the debt ceiling. Until now, the White House has remained largely on the sidelines as the two sides have met over the past two months.
For the supercommitee, time is running out; a flurry of talks are expected to continue into the weekend. The 12 members have until Nov. 23rd to strike a deal. Aides warn, however, that they need to get something done this week to ensure the Congressional Budget Office has enough time before the deadline to provide feedback on how much deficit reduction would be achieved on a particular proposal.
The co-chairs and several other members of the supercommittee are remaining in Washington this weekend to continue negotiations. Murray and Hensarling have met several times this week. Republicans say it is the Democrats' turn to present an offer. Aides on both sides report there has been some progress on the sticky issues of tax and entitlement reform but they still have a long way to go.
One aide close to the committee tells NBC, "Every time there are discussions, it's progress. Certainly more optimistic [today] than midweek."
The two sides appeared deadlocked earlier in the week as offers were made by both sides and rejected. The Republicans accused the Democrats of walking away from talks and Democrats termed Republicans' counteroffer "insane."
GOP members of the panel said they had made a "major concession" by offering $300 billion in new tax revenue, but Democrats said it was not enough. They argued that the Republicans' demand to lower the individual tax rate to 28 percent would be the largest tax cut for multi-millionaires, by percentage, since Calvin Coolidge's administration.
But a Democratic aide, speaking of the party's offer of a package to eliminate $2.3 trillion from the defcit, countered: "We put cuts to entitlements on the table, we put more cuts to discretionary spending on the table, we put cuts to Medicaid, we put serious things on the table along with revenue. These guys put their ideological wish list on the table. Maybe that makes us bad negotiators? I think it makes us people that are serious about getting something done."
The Democratic aide said Democrats may be willing to lower their demand of $1 trillion in revenue, perhaps to the $800 billion that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had discussed over the summer. But Republican demands on entitlement reform would be key.
"It just depends," the aide said. "If they came up to 800 ... and they want to end Medicare as we know it, then no that's not a deal. We're not going to do that."
A Republican aide described a scenario in which both sides have to feel the pain. Democrats would have to give more ground on cutting and reforming entitlement programs, and Republicans will have to bump up the amount of tax revenue the government can keep for deficit reduction.
"This thing has to find balance, both a policy balance and a political balance," he said.
The Democratic aide said it was crunch time. “We have a limited amount of time here to figure something out.”
NBC's Frank Thorp contributed reporting.