Top White House officials are warning liberal and labor leaders to brace themselves for President Obama’s budget proposal.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, sought in meetings last week to lift the left’s gloom about Washington’s crackdown on spending by promising that the president this year will focus on job creation rather than deficit cutting.

Obama staffers sought to present their budget plan as a glass half full. According to sources familiar with the briefings, they promised that the president will focus on jobs and the economy, instead of deficit-cutting, which dominated last year’s debate on Capitol Hill.

Obama has signaled in recent weeks that he plans to run a populist reelection campaign. He will need to keep liberal activist and labor groups — important parts of the Democratic base — energized for his strategy to work.

In his first three years, Obama had a free hand to suggest spending levels for government programs in his annual budget blueprint. But that is not the case this year because the administration is constrained by the budget deal reached in August to raise the debt limit.

He must stick to the $1.047 trillion spending cap he agreed to with GOP leaders, which means he will call for less discretionary spending than he did last year.

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