U.S. President Barack Obama has signed the order for $85 billion in automatic government spending cuts, taking effect because the Congress and the White House could not agree on alternative plans to reduce the budget deficit.
It will be several weeks before the full impact of the cuts are felt across the country, but the effects have already started.
Obama said Saturday in his weekly address the cuts are happening because Republicans in Congress have decided that protecting special interest tax breaks for the "well-off and well-connected" is more important than protecting the military and middle-class families from the cuts.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state said in the Republican address the cuts could be made "in a responsible, thoughtful way." She said the current cuts should be replaced with "smarter spending cuts."
Some federal government agencies have instituted a hiring freeze and cut spending on various projects and programs to avoid worker furloughs. Some public workers say they are already planning for possible pay cuts.
As the cuts gradually takes hold, economists say poor families and the unemployed will lose benefits. Stores could see food shortages because of fewer meat inspections. There could also be delays in shipping and a lower demand for imported goods, which could hurt U.S. trading partners.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says budget uncertainty puts the military's ability to carry out its missions at risk. Among other moves, Hagel said the Navy will have to ground planes, the Air Force will cut flying hours, and the Army will cut back on training.
President Obama Friday called Congress' failure to prevent the massive $85 billion in spending cuts "inexcusable... dumb" and "arbitrary."
Most Democrats want to end certain tax breaks for the wealthy to raise revenue. Most Republicans reject tax hikes of any kind.