President Barack Obama and a divided Congress seem ready to make history Friday: The first time they'll miss a crucial economic deadline.
The $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts had been designed to be so ugly that Washington would be forced to propose a better way to tackle the country's massive debt, but no move was made Tuesday to make a deal.
That's hardly the rosy scenario Obama promised as he ran for re-election and tried to convince voters that Washington would be a different place in his second term.
Experts believe the standoff is already slowing the fragile economy's recovery from the Great Recession. The latest Associated Press Economy Survey of 37 economists found that most worry that the budget fights will persist for much of 2013 and hinder growth.
Obama on Tuesday warned that the government-wide cuts could hurt military readiness and called the move a "self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen.''
But some opposition Republicans see the battle as their best opportunity to stand their ground and exact deep spending cuts from Obama _ even if it means taking money from the Defense Department, a step Republican lawmakers have traditionally opposed.
Many Republicans believe they have a mandate to cut spending significantly. They maintained control of the House of Representatives _ even though it lost seats _ in the November election, in part by pledging to cut government spending and block Obama's proposals for increasing taxes.
The White House has warned that the cuts could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections and lead to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Top Republicans were lining up behind a plan that wouldn't replace the cuts but would give Obama's agency heads, such as incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, greater discretion in distributing the cuts. The idea is that money could be transferred from lower-priority accounts.
But Obama rejected the idea, saying there's no smart way to cut such a large chunk from the budget over just seven months _ the amount of time left in the fiscal year.
"You don't want to have to choose between, `Let's see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?''' Obama said. "You can't gloss over the pain and the impact it's going to have on the economy.''
Giving the Obama administration more authority could take pressure off of Congress to address the