Speaking to the nation's governors, Obama acknowledged that the impact of the $85 billion in cuts may not be felt immediately. But he also said the uncertainty already is impacting the economy, as the Pentagon and other agencies get ready to furlough employees.
"At some point we've got to do some governing," Obama said. "And certainly what we can't do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis."
Despite Obama's urgent rhetoric, there is no indication that the White House and Congress were negotiating a deal to avoid cuts by Friday's deadline. White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had no new telephone calls to announce since the president's conversations with Republican congressional leaders last week. "We will continue to engage with Congress this week," Carney said.
Obama wants to offset the so-called sequester through a combination of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases, but Republicans oppose any plan that would include tax hikes.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting with Obama, governors said the president had assured the administration ispursuing solutions, but didn't offer assurances that officials would find a way ahead out ahead of the deadline.
The $85 billion budget-cutting mechanism could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections. Domestic and defense spending alike would be trimmed, leading to furloughs for hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
The White House continued laying out in stark terms what the cuts would mean for government services, dispatching Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to warn of the implications for critical security functions.
"I don't think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester," said Napolitano, adding that the impact would be "'like a rolling ball. It will keep growing."
Despite the Friday deadline, there are no serious negotiations happening between the White House and Congress. Obama is focused instead are trying to rally public support for his stance in the debate by warning Americans of the dire consequences of the across-the-board cuts.
The president told the governors that cuts would "''slow our economy, eliminate good jobs, and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure out what to do."
The spending cuts have frustrated governors attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. They contend 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, outside the West Wing. "The reality is it can be done. This administration has an insatiable appetite for new revenue."
Democratic governors, meanwhile, laid responsibility squarely at the feet of Congress, but called on lawmakers from both parties to compromise.
"They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications in people's lives," said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. "Work with the president, find a way to get it done or if you want, just turn it over to us governors, and we'll negotiate."
The White House, seeking to ratchet up pressure on congressional lawmakers, gave the governors state-by-state reports on the impact of the cuts on their constituencies.
White House officials pointed to Ohio home of House Speaker John Boehner as one state that would be hit hard: $25.1 million in education spending and another $22 million for students with disabilities. Some 2,500 children from low-income families would also be removed from Head Start programs.
Officials said their analysis showed Kentucky would lose $93,000 in federal funding for a domestic abuse program, meaning 400 fewer victims being served in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state. Georgia, meanwhile, would face a $286,000 budget cut to its children's health programs, meaning almost 4,200 fewer children would receive vaccinations against measles and whooping cough.
The White House compiled its state-by-state reports from federal agencies and its own budget office. The numbers reflect the impact of the cuts this year. Unless Congress acts by Friday, $85 billion in cuts are set to take effect from March to September.
As to whether states could move money around to cover shortfalls, the White House said that depends on state budget structures and the specific programs. The White House did not have a list of which states or programs might have flexibility.
Republican leaders were not impressed by the state-by-state reports.
"It's time for the White House to stop spending all its time campaigning, and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit," said McConnell.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.