The White House on Wednesday brushed off House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's contention that President Obama's State of the Union proposal of freezing domestic spending should apply to defense spending too.
"Well, the president obviously believes that national security is something that is paramount," White House senior adviser David Axelrod told Fox News, noting that Obama cancelled certain Pentagon weapons systems in an effort to be more efficient.
"But what we can't do at a time when we're in two wars and we have a very determined enemy in Al Qaeda, we can't stand down. We have to make sure we have adequate defense."
The disagreement, surfacing mere hours before Obama's first State of the Union address, threatens to cast a pall over one of the items the White House hoped would establish the president'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.
Earlier Wednesday, Pelosi told Politico.com that any spending freeze should be "across the board."
"Everybody has to make a sacrifice," Pelosi said. "If you're asking everybody else in the country who has an interaction with the federal government -- and that means our states and cities and all the rest, too -- to cut back, then I think we have to subject every federal dollar to the very harshest scrutiny."
Pelosi questioned the fairness of Obama's proposal.
"Well, I think that if there is going to be a spending freeze, it should be across the board," she said. "That is to say, we all want a strong national defense, and we want to fund it in an appropriate way," she said. "But we're not here to protect defense contractors. ... And the fact is, if we have to cut spending, we should subject every dollar to that same scrutiny."
Axelrod tried to avoid a back-and-forth with the speaker, declining to say where he disagrees with her.
"Well I haven't heard what the speaker had to say, so I'm not going to get into a debate with the speaker," he said. "But a freeze that we're recommending is for discretionary spending."
Pelosi's spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, said the speaker wants to make sure that defense contractors aren't making out like bandits.
"We have to be very careful how we spend our money," Elshami said. "Of course we'll take care of our soldiers and secure our nation."
Fox News' Major Garrett and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.