U.S. President Barack Obama used his weekly online address Saturday to warn Americans who will be affected by $85 billion US in government spending cuts, which are due to roll out gradually after Republicans and Democrats failed to reach a budget deal.
"It's important to understand that while not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away, the pain will be real," Obama said.
"Many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in a significant way. Beginning this week, businesses that work with the military will have to lay folks off," he said. "Communities near military bases will take a serious blow."
He went on to say that hundreds of thousands of Americans who serve their country on security matters — including border control agents, FBI agents, and especially civilians who work with the defence department — will see their wages cut and their hours reduced.
There is talk that some employees will have to take furloughs, or unpaid days off. The White House has speculated that thousands of Federal Aviation Administration may have to take unpaid leave.
On the domestic side, everything from health care and education to law enforcement and scientific research is expected to be affected by the budget cuts.
Border crossing, air travel concerns
For Canadians, border crossing is an immediate worry. Terry Shaw, general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association, says the focus of concern is cuts to Homeland Security and how it will affect Canadian truck traffic bound for U.S. customers.
His group has been advised those cuts will come into effect April 1, meaning 5,000 U.S. border agents could lose their jobs.
The association says two-thirds of goods sent to the states each day arrive by truck, so it's readying for severe delays.
Officials from the association say they have been warned that border crossings that used to take one hour could now last up to five hours.
"We’ve been telling our members today to plan for the worst," said Shaw. He said the effects of the cuts at the border will be seen within hours or days rather than weeks.
Air travellers are also being warned to expect longer wait times at some U.S. airports starting in the coming weeks.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is preparing to reduce hours for its employees — the equivalent of losing 2,700 inspectors.
Pentagon faces $46 billion in cuts
The automatic across-the-board budget cuts — termed "sequestration" in Washington — were confirmed after Obama and congressional Republicans failed to strike a deal Friday to avert the reductions.
The Pentagon will see the lion's share of the cuts, totalling $46 billion through the end of this budget year, ending Sept. 30. Pentagon chief Leon Panetta warned Congress earlier this month that under the cuts, defence workers could lose one day of work per week, or 20 per cent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks.
At a news conference after their morning meeting, Obama referred to "dumb, arbitrary cuts" and blamed the lack of a deal to avert them on a Republican refusal to agree to a new debt reduction plan that would include higher taxes on wealthy Americans through the closing of loopholes and deductions.
Republicans said they wanted cuts, but not tax increases.
"The president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, a reference to a $600 billion increase on higher wage earners that cleared Congress on the first day of the year.
Now, he said after the meeting, it is time to take on "the spending problem here in Washington."