Top Obama Adviser David Axelrod told Fox this afternoon the president opposes Speaker Nancy Pelosi's call to include the defense budget in a three-year spending freeze.
"What we can't do at time when we're in two wars, and we have a very determined enemy in Al Qaeda, we can't stand down," Axelrod said. "We have to make sure we have adequate defense. I'm not going to get into a debate with the speaker. But the freeze that we're recommending is for discretionary spending."
Pelosi called for the president's proposed freeze to apply to defense spending in an interview with reporters Wednesday.
The disagreement, surfacing mere hours before the State of the Union address, threatens to cast a pall over one of the items the White House hoped would establish Obama's credibility on the deficit. Pelosi spoke for many liberal Democrats who did not want domestic spending subject to a three-year freeze if defense spending was exempted.
Axelrod's assertion that subjecting defense spending to a freeze would mean a "stand down" against Al Qaeda could fuel Republican criticism of Pelosi and deepen the simmering sense of alienation between House Democrats and the White House.
House Democrats complained bitterly this week that after following Obama's lead on energy, health care, banking and jobs legislation those initiatives have stalled in the Democratically controlled Senate.
Axelrod said Obama believes "national security is something that is paramount" and must be done "efficiently." As with other top advisers, Axelrod said Obama's commitment to leaner defense spending can be found in his successful move last year to halt purchases of the F-22 fighter aircraft, a weapons system the Pentagon opposed.
"That's why he and Secretary Gates canceled some of the weapons systems the Pentagon themselves felt were not necessary and were big boondoggles," Axelrod said. "We'll continue to do that."