Politics trumped progress on Friday as President Barack Obama and Republican leaders traded blame for $85 billion in forced spending cuts after they failed to come up with a compromise to avert the harshest impacts.
The president signed an order required by law that set in motion the automatic, government-wide cuts.
Obama and congressional leaders from both parties met for about 45 minutes at the White House, but no agreement emerged to avert the cuts that both sides oppose.
After weeks of campaign-style events intended to inspire public outrage over the cuts, Obama sought to temper his description of their impact while making clear he thinks Republican intransigence prevented a deal to avoid the economic harm they'll cause.
"We will get through this," he told reporters. "This is not going to be an apocalypse as some people have said. It's just dumb and it's going to hurt."
Still, a White House budget office report sent to Congress and released with Obama's order said the cuts would be "deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions."
The action was described in the report as "a blunt and indiscriminate instrument" that was "never intended to be implemented and does not represent a responsible way" for the country to realize deficit reduction.
In a sign of the potential impact, the Department of Justice sent furlough notices to employees that warned they may be forced to take days off without pay in coming months.
Similar furloughs, as well as reduced services, were expected at other agencies if the cuts don't get replaced or eliminated. Military leaders have warned of impaired readiness of U.S. forces.
However, the full impact of the cuts weren't expected until April at the earliest.