U.S President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders failed in a last-minute bid to avert the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect at midnight Friday.

After a meeting behind closed doors in the White House, Obama appeared before the press and blamed GOP lawmakers for the inevitability of the "arbitrary" cuts, while Republicans insisted they will not accept the revenue increases requested by the administration.

"Now, what's important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain, though, will be real. Beginning this week, many middle-class families will have their lives disrupted in significant ways," the president said.

The cuts required by the so-called sequester will mean the loss of 750,000 jobs and a 0.5 percent reduction in economic growth, Obama said.

However, the president tried to lower the alarm level and said the country will go forward and that the sequester "is not going to be an apocalypse."

Democrats and Republicans in Congress established the sequester as a way of forcing themselves to agree on long-term measures to reduce the deficit.

The main roadblock in the negotiations is that Republicans consider government spending excessive and must be cut back more, while Democrats pursue tax reform to increase revenues.

"The discussion about revenue, in my view is over. It's about taking on the spending problem," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters outside the White House after the meeting.

Several days ago Obama and the White House launched a campaign to alert citizens to the effects of the cuts, with warnings that there would be air traffic problems, unpaid furloughs for many federal employees and a decline in services linked to education and national security. EFE