But he cautioned, "We need to make sure that in Washington we are not taking actions that undercut that progress that we have been making and can continue to make and will continue to make."

Carney said letting the automatic cuts take effect is a "sort of political brinksmanship of the kind that results in one primary victim, and that's American taxpayers, the American middle class."

Still, the White House insists the only alternative to those cuts is a mix of savings and new tax revenue. Republicans say the $600 billion in revenue they already gave Obama as part of the New Year's fiscal cliff deal is enough. They insist that if he wants different spending cuts than those due to start on March 1, he should submit a new plan.

But the White House has been eager to move away from fiscal and budget fights, ready to use the president's re-election and the uptick in his popularity to push his noneconomic agenda.

On Tuesday, he traveled to Las Vegas to push for an overhaul in immigration. On Monday, he is traveling to Minneapolis to promote his proposals to reduce gun violence.

The issues are not simple ones for Obama. The economy and the nation's debt still rank higher than immigration and guns as issues in the mind of the public. Moreover, Obama has to navigate gingerly with Congress on immigration, where a fragile coalition of Democrats and Republicans is assembling legislation that, among other things, could provide a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Obama has vowed to use his bully pulpit to build public support for his new agenda. Defending his economic stewardship was not supposed to be part of the playbook.

Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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