But if the Obama administration hasn't managed to convince Americans these spending cuts could be the real deal, it's not for lack of trying.
Each day the cuts grow nearer sees a new dire warning from the White House about another government function that will take a hit if they go into effect — what White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has called a "devastating list of horribles." The White House has even compiled and circulated 51 reports — one for each state, plus the District of Columbia — showing how the cuts could harm local communities.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that up to 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has warned that her agency will be forced to furlough 5,000 border patrol agents. Fewer air traffic controllers could mean 90-minute delays or longer in major cities, and visiting hours at all 398 national parks are likely to be cut, the administration has said.
"The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare the states," Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said this week after governors from both parties met with Obama behind closed doors. "Now's the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services."
The age-old Republican desire for a scaled-back federal government makes it clear why, on the one hand, the GOP isn't scrambling to avert the cuts — especially when Obama insists on more tax revenues in any deal to turn them off. On the other hand, Obama is banking on polls that show if the cuts go through, Republicans are likely to bear most of the blame.
Both parties agree that if you're going to cut spending, an indiscriminate mechanism like the sequester is the wrong way to do it. After all, the whole point of the endeavor was to set in motion ramifications so unbearable that lawmakers would be forced to come together and hash out a better plan before the deadline.
Count James Ford of Louisville, Ky., among those still holding out hope.
"They'll come up with something to keep the thing going," he said. "They always do."
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Atlanta, Jake Pearson in New York and Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.
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