WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says automatic spending reductions set to kick in will be put off until as close to midnight Friday as possible.

The law, passed by Congress on Jan. 2 simply says that 'on March 1, 2013, the president shall order a sequestration for fiscal year 2013.' That's budget talk for an $85 billion reduction in defense and domestic spending between now and Oct. 1.

Obama can issue that order at any point in the day.

White House press secretary Jay Carney says that means midnight, Friday -- or as close to midnight as possible: 11:59 p.m. and 59 seconds.

Because, Carney says, Obama remains 'ever hopeful.'

Preparing for a worst-case scenario, Navy officials have plans to force mandatory furloughs on roughly 186,000 civilian employees across the country. Shipyards from coast to coast, including BAE Industries in Norfolk and Newport News Shipbuilding, have outlined cost-cutting plans to delay huge maintenance contracts on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

'Everybody's nervous, worried about what's going to happen,' Ronnie Hall, a 27-year-old fleet support apprentice, said before the president spoke at the Peninsula yard on Wednesday.

Next up for Congress and the White House is how to avoid Washington's coming crisis, which threatens a government shutdown after March 27, when a six-month spending bill enacted last year expires.

Don't miss our special report on this important issue tonight at 7:00 pm. Submit your questions on our Facebook page or on Twitter with the hashtag #hrsequester. More coverage here

AP-WF-03-01-13 0857GMT

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