Obama on Sequester: No Apocalypse, 'Just Dumb'
Some Pentagon weapons production could grind to a halt and the budget cuts would ripple through the sprawling defense contracting industry.
Meat inspections could get hung up, medical research projects on cancer and Alzheimer's disease canceled or curtailed and thousands of teachers laid off.
Instead of these indiscriminate cuts, Obama and Democrats in Congress urge a mix of targeted spending cuts and tax increases on the rich to help tame the growth of a $16.6 trillion national debt.
Republicans instead want to cut the cost of huge social safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare, that are becoming more expensive in a country with an aging population.
Meantime, Obama is edging closer to having to enforce the meat-ax approach.
By midnight, he is required to issue an order to federal agencies to reduce their budgets and the White House budget office must send a report to Congress detailing the spending cuts. In coming days, federal agencies are likely to issue 30-day notices to workers who will be laid off.
Despite warnings that it had little flexibility on executing the cuts, White House budget office controller Danny Werfel outlined some steps that could come before major program cuts are instituted.
Federal travel, conferences and training classes could first be canceled, he said, as could worker bonuses and new hiring. Agencies have also been instructed to identify contracts and grants that could be canceled or delayed.
Even so, the process has already generated uncertainty among businesses that work with the federal government, as well as throughout the agencies that run Washington.
Referring to the partisan battles that have dominated budget fights for two years, Republican Rep. Scott Rigell told Reuters: "This reminds me of a couple of crocodiles in a death grip underwater and they're running out of oxygen and we're all going down" with them. Rigell's eastern Virginia congressional district has the highest concentration of active-duty military personnel in the country and houses major Pentagon shipbuilding facilities that could come under the budget ax.