Most of the capital seems resigned to the idea that looming budget cuts will start hitting states, cities, schools, and government contractors throughout the country Friday.
The new question has become: How much will the cuts really hurt?
The White House says Head Start might serve fewer Philadelphia-area children. Cash-strapped schools would have to dig deeper. Defense contractors such as Boeing could be hit. Aid for Sandy relief could be cut.
But some Republicans question whether President Obama is just using scare tactics.
As local governments, defense giants, and service organizations brace for "the sequester" -- a technical term for $85 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin Friday -- Obama and his Democratic allies have spent the last two days sounding alarms about the potential impact on services, schools, jobs, and a still-fragile economy.
"You're making $85 billion of cuts in a seven-month period, and there's no good way to do that," said Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council.
Republicans, in turn, have accused the administration of putting forth what U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach called "doomsday predictions" instead of solutions.
"It's about time this president showed some leadership and stopped trying to scare people," Gerlach (R., Pa.) said in an e-mail.
The cuts would reduce federal spending by 9 percent for domestic programs and 13 percent for defense by September, with some exceptions in each category. More would follow -- $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are scheduled by 2021.
Among the effects that the White House has laid out in the last two days would be a $3 billion cut in relief for Hurricane Sandy -- "insult to injury to the many families and businesses that are still hurting," said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.).
Defense cuts would force furloughs of 37,000 civilian defense workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to the Obama administration.
People receiving long-term unemployment aid could see their weekly checks reduced by 10 percent.
The cuts would slash $26.4 million in school aid to Pennsylvania and $11.7 million in New Jersey, and slash support for Head Start, the early-childhood education program for low-income families that has more demand than it can meet in Philadelphia.
The reductions would eat into college aid and funds for the National Institutes of Health, which underwrites extensive research in Philadelphia, and hit local hospitals.
But while the White House released facts and figures aimed at painting a picture of the abstract debate, it's not clear how fast the cuts will hit -- some within weeks, others not as quickly -- or how long they may last.
A bipartisan deal after the Friday deadline could quickly ease or erase the cuts, and a March 27 budget deadline provides another opportunity for negotiations. (The sequester, originally set to hit Jan. 1 as part of the fiscal cliff, has already been delayed once.)
It's also unclear how exactly the reductions will be implemented. Would some children be pushed out of Head Start entirely, as the White House is warning, or would the cuts be spread evenly across the program, reducing resources for all but maintaining enrollment?
Furman acknowledged on a conference call Monday that some of the cuts could be spread differently than in the scenarios the White House has circulated.
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