The automatic US budget cuts set to take hold this week have been roundly condemned as governors, lawmakers and administration officials hoped for a deal to stave off the $US85 billion ($A83 billion) reduction in government services that threatens to undermine the fragile economic recovery.
The grim picture is emerging as the White House and lawmakers count down the days until the government is forced to make drastic cuts in domestic and defence spending with hardly any leeway to save some programs from the budget knife. This would lead to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of workers at the Transportation Department, Defense Department and other government agencies, impacting everything from commercial flights to meat inspections.
The so-called sequester now approaching was never supposed to happen. It was designed as an unpalatable fallback, to take effect only in case a specially established bipartisan congressional super-committee failed to come up with $US1 trillion or more in savings from government programs.
"It's senseless and it doesn't need to happen," said Maryland's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley, during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association at the weekend. "This really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flat line our job growth for the next several months."
Obama has not been able to find success for his balanced approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases.
He has proposed closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
Republicans say reduced spending needs to be the focus and have rejected the president's demand to include higher taxes as part of a compromise.
They say legislation passed in early January already raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans to generate an estimated $US600 billion for the Treasury over a decade.
With Friday's deadline nearing, few in the US capital were optimistic that a realistic compromise could be found. But instead of dealing with the problem at hand, both sides made assigning blame for the sequester a priority as the clock ticked down.