WASHINGTON -- The nation's budget solution was never supposed to look like this: Congress and the White House staring at across-the-board spending cuts that will begin slashing indiscriminately through the federal government in a matter of days.
Each side had expected cooler heads to prevail, assuming the other would set aside its political preferences and compromise to prevent the economic problems that are widely expected from a sudden reduction in the flow of federal funds.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, believed that President Barack Obama was so fearful of deep reductions to domestic programs that the White House would yield to Republican demands. Instead, Obama has stuck to his insistence that wealthier Americans and corporations must contribute more in taxes as part of any solution to the country's long-term debt problems.
The White House figured Republicans would be the ones to blink. The party's opposition to defense cuts would force Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to yield and accept at least some additional taxes rather than go ahead with the automatic cuts, known as a sequester, Democrats believed.
Both sides severely miscalculated.
Now the cuts that both sides said would never happen are only days away. With some of the largest government programs, including Medicaid and Social Security, fully walled off from the cuts, and Medicare only partially exposed, the reductions in other federal accounts work out to about 13 percent for defense and 9 percent for domestic spending for the rest of this year, according to the government's Office of Management and Budget.
At first, the public likely will not notice huge changes. Many furlough notices for federal workers take at least 30 days to kick in, for example, and the effect on other programs will vary in timing.
Longer waits at airports likely will be seen relatively quickly as the Transportation Security Agency reduces its spending, but cuts in federal education aid may not lead to teachers losing their jobs until the new school year starts in the fall, administration officials have said.
Economists, though, have warned that pulling some $85 billion in federal spending from the economy this year likely will shave economic growth enough to cost about 750,000 jobs.
As the two sides jockey for political advantage, both will be watching to see how the public reacts to the cuts. A Pew Research Center poll released Friday showed that although the public supports the idea of deficit reduction in general, Americans oppose most suggestions for cutting specific government programs.