Speaking to the nation's governors, Obama acknowledged that the impact of the $85 billion in cuts may not be felt immediately. But he also said the uncertainty already is impacting the economy, as the Pentagon and other agencies get ready to furlough employees.
"At some point we've got to do some governing," Obama said. "And certainly what we can't do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis."
Despite Obama's urgent rhetoric, there is little indication that the White House and Congress will reach a deal by Friday. Obama wants to offset the so-called sequester through a combination of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases, but Republicans oppose any plan that would include tax hikes.
The $85 billion budget-cutting mechanism could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections. Domestic and defense spending alike would be trimmed, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.