US President Barack Obama has signed an order for across-the-board spending cuts after he and congressional leaders failed to find an alternative budget plan. The cuts must be made over the next seven months.
President Barack Obama on Friday signed an order that begins across-the-board budget cuts of $85 billion (65 billion euros) known as the "sequester" after last-ditch talks between Republicans and Democrats failed.
The "sequestration" means that government agencies must now begin to hack a total of $85 billion from their budgets between Saturday and October 1. However, Congress can stop them at any time if the two parties agree on how to do so.
New US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the cuts, half of which will fall on the Pentagon, put at risk "all of our missions."
On Thursday the Senate voted down two separate proposals that would have replaced existing legislation and prevented the automatic austerity measures from kicking in.
President Obama's Democrats presented a bill in the Senate designed to generate more revenue for the government by increasing taxes on high earners. The Republicans' proposal did not include provisions to raise more tax revenue, but would have given the president the power to determine which spending programs to cut.
However, neither proposal got the 60 Senate votes needed to pass, with members of the two parties blaming each other.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of not working hard enough.
"Now that today's political stunt to raise taxes has failed, it's time for the president and Senate Democrats to do the hard work that is necessary to pass a bill in the Senate so we can begin to resolve this issue," Boehner said.
Speaking after Thursday's votes, Obama accused the Republicans of "threatening our economy with a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts that will cost us jobs and slow our recovery."
Washington must now turn to the issue of slashing the budget deficit and the $16 trillion national debt. On March 27 a temporary federal budget, agreed on to avoid the "fiscal cliff," is due to expire.
hc/mr (AP, Reuters)