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Political Notebook

Obama pushes domestic spending cuts

November 14, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration, mindful of public anxiety over the government’s mushrooming debt, is shifting emphasis from big-spending policies to deficit reduction. Domestic agencies have been told to brace for a spending freeze or cuts of up to 5 percent as part of a midterm election-year push to rein in record budget shortfalls.

President Obama is expected to make post-recession spending restraint a key theme of his State of the Union address in January and an important element of the budget he submits to Congress a few weeks later. He is under increasing pressure, including from moderate and conservative members of his own party, to show he is serious about tackling a deficit that has become an economic and political liability.

Democratic officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill say options for locking in budget savings include caps on the amount of money Congress gets to distribute each year for agency operating budgets.

On Thursday, the government reported that the federal deficit hit a record $176.4 billion for October as the new budget year began. The deficit for the 2009 budget year, which ended on Sept. 30, set a record in dollar terms of $1.42 trillion, $958 billion above the previous record in fiscal 2008.

The budget freeze was planned before Democratic setbacks in last week’s elections. But the bad results for Democrats - independent voters who were central to Obama’s winning coalition last year voted roughly 3 to 1 for GOP gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey - appear to have added urgency to the deficit-cutting drive. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

White House announces legal counsel is leaving
The White House yesterday announced its most significant staff change - top lawyer Greg Craig is leaving and Bob Bauer, President Obama’s campaign counsel, is replacing him.

Obama issued a statement praising Craig as “a close friend and trusted adviser who tackled many tough challenges,’’ including the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court.

The president did not mention the widespread reports of disenchantment with Craig’s handling of some issues, most notably Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center by early next year.

Craig’s departure, which follows the announcement earlier this week that White House communications director Anita Dunn is stepping down, appeared timed with the declaration yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder that accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will face trial in a civilian federal court in New York.

Craig also oversaw the president’s revamping of policy on terrorism interrogations, was at the center of moves to release documents relating to the treatment of terror suspects under the Bush administration, and was instrumental in the White House decision to resist the release of photos of abuse of detainees overseas by US personnel. -- GLOBE STAFF AND ASSOCIATED PRESS