PRESIDENT Barack Obama has accused Republicans of inflicting "unnecessary and inexcusable" damage on the American economy and demonising him rather than trying to strike a budget deal.
Speaking as the US braced for $85bn (€65bn) in public spending cuts to take effect at midnight last night, Mr Obama tried to lay blame squarely at the feet of his opponents.
"We should not be making a series of dumb, arbitrary cuts to things like education, research and defence," he said.
The "sequestration" cut was designed in 2011 to be so unpalatable that leaders from both parties would be forced to agree another deal to reduce America's $845bn (€650bn) budget deficit.
Talks yesterday between Mr Obama and congressional leaders again failed to reach anything close to an agreement after Republicans rejected his demands to close tax loopholes for high earners before cutting benefit programmes and overhauling the US tax code.
Warning that the cuts could reduce US growth by half a percentage point and jeopardise 750,000 jobs, Mr Obama accused Republicans in Congress of "forcing pain" on ordinary Americans. While they refused to consider plans with which he won re-election last year, he said, "the majority of the American people agree with me – including, by the way, a majority of Republicans".
He dismissed suggestions that he might have done anything more to force a deal when the House of Representatives is under Republican control, saying: "I am not a dictator, I'm the president. Is there something I could do to make some of the House Republican caucus not paint horns on my head?"
John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, dismissed Mr Obama's claims, saying he would not budge on new taxes. "The discussion on revenue is over," he said.
Rejecting Mr Obama's suggestion that his plan was backed by a majority of the public, Mr Boehner added: "The American people know that Washington has a spending problem."
The immediate impact of the cuts on the public was uncertain. They would carve 5pc from domestic agencies and 8pc from the Pentagon between now and October 1 but would leave several major schemes alone.
So entrenched are the parties that chaplain Barry Black opened the Senate session on Thursday with a prayer beseeching a higher power to intervene: "Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves." (© Daily Telegraph, London)