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When it comes to assertions in Mr. Woodward’s book that the White House came up with the idea of punting tough negotiations over spending until after the election by creating the looming threat of deep, automatic defense cuts to force a compromise, Mr. Carney didn’t directly refute the notion.

“I don’t know where the idea came out of,” he said. “There have been sequesters … I think everybody in the process, when there wasn’t a grand bargain to be achieved because of the Republicans’ refusal to accept balance, the idea of a forcing mechanism was agreed upon. And then it was a question of what would be contained within that forcing mechanism.”