U.S. President Barack Obama is due to meet at the White House Friday with top Republican and Democratic lawmakers to discuss a last-ditch effort to avoid across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to take effect before the day is over.
The meeting is largely viewed as symbolic, after dueling bills to avoid the cuts were defeated in the Senate Thursday, making $85 billion in automatic spending cuts appear inevitable once the Friday deadline passes.
President Obama has said the effects of the cuts on federal agencies - most notably defense, infrastructure spending, public schools and preschool care - will not be felt immediately, but instead will have what he calls a "tumble downward" effect. That means, the longer the cuts remain in place, the worse the damage they will cause.
Defense employees are expected to be forced to take unpaid time off work, while funding for big infrastructure projects will eventually halt.
States also would feel the effects, with fewer federal dollars coming in.
President Obama is blaming Republicans for the impasse, saying they voted to put the entire burden of deficit reduction on the middle class. Obama and many Democrats want to eliminate certain tax breaks for the wealthy to raise revenue along with spending cuts as a way to reduce the budget deficit.
Many Republicans oppose tax increases of any kind and want to focus solely on cutting spending. They accuse Democrats of exaggerating the impact of what is known as the sequester. The effects of the cuts may not be felt for several more weeks.
The automatic budget cuts will hit nearly every federal government agency.
The failure of Congress and the White House to avoid the sequester has left many in Washington frustrated about the lack of progress toward a federal budget deal.
Meanwhile, the nation faces another obstacle: if lawmakers do not agree on a new budget by March 27, a continuing resolution funding the government for fiscal 2013 will expire and the government could shut down altogether.