WASHINGTON -- With days left before $85 billion in automatic cuts to federal spending plans kick in, President Obama is drumming up public concern in a bid to head off what he calls a "perfect storm" for economic decay, delays, and hardship.
Reduced unemployment checks, no overtime for border patrol agents and furloughs for hundreds of thousands of government workers -- those are just some of the cuts scheduled to begin Friday under the so-called sequester.
The White House has even brought out Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to raise the sense of urgency.
"Look, I don't think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester," she warned.
Napolitano predicted that within just weeks, airline passengers will face longer lines at security checkpoints....delays as long as four hours at some major airports.
The military will really feel the pinch.
On Tuesday, President Obama will visit a shipbuilding company in Virginia, a major manufacturer in a state that will see some 90,000 Department of Defense employees furloughed starting Friday.
Speaking to the nation's governors at a meeting in Washington Monday, the president said Congress needs to stop playing politics and govern.
"These cuts do not have to happen," he said. "Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise."
But critics have dismissed the president's warnings as a scare tactic.
"The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare states," Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
Jindal pointed to the president's "insatiable appetite for new revenues."
"Let's be clear. The federal budget will actually be larger even after these reductions than it was last year," Jindal said.
He said most Americans believe it's possible to cut 3 percent of the federal budget without losing critical services.
Still, some governor's don't want to find out what the cuts feel like.
"They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications and people's lives," Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.
The White House said the president is staying engaged, but with just days before the cuts hit, there's no evidence of any active negotiations.
Meanwhile, political observers say all the hand-wringing is similar to the partial government shutdown in the mid-1990s.
Back then officials said old people would go hungry, illegal immigrants would have the run of the land, and veterans would go without drugs. None of those things happened.