Eighty-five billion dollars in automatic government spending cuts appear inevitable after the U.S. Senate defeated competing bills seen as alternatives to the painful cuts.
Democrats voted down a Republican proposal Thursday that would have given the president more flexibility in deciding where to reduce spending. Republicans rejected a Democratic measure to replace the cuts with tax increases on the wealthy and scrapping some farm subsidies.
President Barack Obama is blaming Republicans for the impasse, saying they voted to put the entire burden of deficit reduction on the middle class. He meets with congressional leaders on Friday, saying the nation cannot keep going from one manufactured crisis to another.
The automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, take effect Friday and will hit nearly every federal government agency. Services would be reduced and many federal employees could be forced to take unpaid leave. States also would feel the effects, with fewer federal dollars coming in.
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.
President 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 the sequester, whose effects may not be felt for several more weeks.