President Barack Obama is waiting until after deep automatic spending cuts actually kick in before meeting with congressional leaders to search for ways out of the nation's latest fiscal crunch. The timing says a lot about the nature and timing of the crisis.

He'll meet at the White House with the four top House and Senate leaders on Friday. The "sequester" cuts begin midnight Thursday.

The scheduling reflects the growing consensus on both sides that they're still too far apart to block the cuts, a recognition that most of the reductions won't hit right away and the knowledge that there's another month to find a better fix.

But panic may rise as March 27 approaches. That's when the current stopgap government budget expires and Congress must pass a new one for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Individual cuts can be modified or eliminated during that budget process.

While the sequester will slash government spending authority by $85 billion, the actual spending cuts will be about $44 billion, says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Both parties have been heatedly blaming each other for the impasse as Obama makes campaign-like trips to spotlight the impact on various sectors of the economy.

The maneuvering comes as polls show a divided nation over the looming spending cuts.


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A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows about half of Americans call the cuts too severe and a slightly smaller percentage say they're necessary to reduce the deficit. Other recent polls show similar findings.

Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, freshly confirmed by the Senate as defense secretary, mentioned the latest fiscal crisis—which hits defense accounts particularly hard—in his first remarks on the job on Wednesday.

"We're dealing with less dollars coming down," Hagel told Pentagon workers. He said he's particularly troubled by "the uncertainty" that lies ahead.

"Now, I've got to go to work," he said.

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