WASHINGTON - The $85 billion in budget cuts set to hit the U.S. on Friday were designed to be so unattractive and damaging that they would force Congress and the Obama administration to find a better way to address the country's massive deficit. Four days remain but no alternative is in sight, and both sides in the latest partisan battle are angrily blaming each other.
No deal means the government is forced to make drastic cuts in domestic and defence spending, a move that that threatens the fragile economic recovery from the Great Recession.
"The longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become," President Barack Obama told the nation's governors on Monday at the White House. He appealed again to fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans to work together to find a solution.
Despite the Friday deadline, there were no serious negotiations under way between the White House and Congress. Obama is focused instead on trying to rally public support by warning Americans of the dire consequences.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had no new telephone calls to announce since conversations the president had last week with Republican congressional leaders. "We will continue to engage with Congress this week," Carney said.
The spending cuts have frustrated governors attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. They say it has created widespread uncertainty in the economy and hampered economic recovery in their states.
"The president needs to show leadership," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican considered a potential 2016 presidential contender. "This administration has an insatiable appetite for new revenue."
On Sunday, the Obama administration increased the pressure on Republicans in Congress by releasing state-by-state reports on the impact of the looming budget cuts, an effort designed to get lawmakers to compromise or face unhappy constituents at home.
"The No. 1 risk, in my view, to the continuing economic comeback of Michigan is the federal government," Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, said in an interview. His state is the seat of the U.S. auto industry.
Republican leaders in Congress were not impressed by the state-by-state reports.
"The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the (cuts) will be and more time actually working to stop it," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
The dramatic budget cuts were designed to take effect only in case a specially established bipartisan congressional super-committee failed to come up with $1 trillion or more in savings from government programs.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travellers could see delayed flights. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
The cuts, with few exceptions, are designed to hit all federal accounts equally. The law gives Obama little room to ease the pain.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, called the looming defence cuts "unconscionable" and urged Obama to call lawmakers to the White House for a last-minute budget summit.
"I won't put all the blame all on the president of the United States. But the president leads," McCain told CNN.
But there are few signs of urgency among congressional leaders, who have recently indicated their willingness to let the cuts take effect and stay in place for weeks, if not much longer.
Obama has not been able to find enough support for his alternative approach of reducing deficits through a combination of targeted savings and tax increases. Obama has proposed closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
House Republicans have said 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 $600 billion for the Treasury over a decade.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott, Steve Peoples and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.