WASHINGTON — Sometime today, the federal government will take the first step toward cutting spending in dozens of departments and programs after the two major parties each tried and failed to muscle partisan alternatives through the Senate.
With the last-minute effort to avert the automatic spending cuts failed, the House of Representatives adjourned, the Senate wrapped up its scheduled business for the week, and most members went home.
That raised the stakes for a meeting today at the White House with President Barack Obama and the leaders of both parties in Congress as they debate how or whether they can change course in the days ahead as the spending cuts gradually take effect.
"As a nation, we can't keep lurching from one manufactured crisis to another," Obama said Thursday after the congressional votes failed. "Middle-class families can't keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington."
With Congress gone, even a last-minute breakthrough agreement that no one expects likely would come too late to stop the first moves to start cutting $85 billion from this year's $3.5 trillion budget.
Sometime before midnight — the 2011 law requiring the cuts stipulated only that they start going into effect March 1 — Obama was expected to sign a directive ordering the White House Office of Management and Budget to start implementing the cuts. With much of the federal budget such as Social Security off limits, the cuts will be concentrated on a smaller part of the government, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. Many will take weeks or even months to go into effect.