Obama acted Friday, the deadline for the president and Congress to avoid the steep, one-year cuts.
Obama has insisted on replacing the cuts, known as a "sequester" in government budget language, with tax increases and cuts spread out over time. Republicans have rejected any plan that included tax revenue.
President Barack Obama blamed Republican lawmakers for failing to stop automatic spending cuts that are set to kick in Friday night.
The president called the cuts "dumb" and "arbitrary." He said the impact of the cuts won't immediately be felt, but the lives of middle class families will be significantly disrupted.
Republicans, on the other hand, said it's the president's fault for insisting that increased taxes be part of the resolution.
Obama said that he can offer compromises, but he can't force Republicans in Congress to do anything.
Obama made his comments at a news conference Friday morning after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
There were few hopes that a deal would be worked out. The meeting was an opportunity for all sides to stake out their fiscal positions with the threat of a government shutdown looming less than four weeks away.
On Thursday, the Senate rejected two proposals to head off the cuts. Members of Congress then left the capital for a long weekend. That made the cuts, which are set to kick in at midnight, seem inevitable.
The sequester will slash $85 billion in federal spending for the rest of the fiscal year. It will impact everything from the military, Medicare and education to food inspection and homeland security. Democrats say the cuts could damage the economic recovery.
"I really believe that the American people deserve better than what the Republicans in this building believe is the right thing," said Reid. "They've endured too much economic uncertainty in recent years. Now, the economy is poised for a strong longterm growth."
The president wants to avoid the forced budget cuts in part with tax increases, but Republicans don't want to do that.
"I would suggest that the majority leader, the president and his Cabinet put down the Beltway Kool-Aid because they are predicting a disaster that will not occur," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Some reports say House Republicans are already turning their attention to the next deadline on March 27, drafting a measure that would avoid a government shutdown while leaving the sequester in place through the end of September.
How the sequester affects California
The effects of the sequester cuts will be felt all over California. The Employment Development Department has been expecting to cut unemployment benefit extensions by 10 percent, but the U.S. Department of Labor hasn't said yet what states need to do.
The California Professional Firefighters Union hasn't gotten any direction either. In the past, first responders and other emergency personnel were exempt from automatic budget cuts during gridlock. Since there's no talk of immunity this time, more than 700 federal firefighters throughout the state fear they'll get layoff or furlough notices.
Because no layoffs are allowed by law during the school year, district administrators are already trying to meet the March 15 deadline when the state must handout layoff notices if they anticipate funding shortages for the next school year. Sequestration guarantees millions less for education. Advocates predict cuts to head start for 8,000 California kids and nearly 16,000 cuts in vaccines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.