And Obama isn't budging on his insistence on higher tax revenue along with spending cuts.
The White House has warned that the broad-based $85 billion in cuts could affect everything from commercial flights to classrooms to meat inspections. The cuts would slash domestic and defense spending, leading to forced unpaid days off for hundreds of thousands of workers.
But the impact won't be immediate, giving negotiators some breathing room to work on a deal.
That is, if both sides decide to actually start negotiating.
No serious talks to avert the budget cuts are under way, even among White House and congressional staff. There have been no face-to-face meetings between Obama and Republicans this year. And there's been just one known phone call this year between Obama and the top congressional Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Instead, Obama is focusing his efforts on rallying public support for his sequester offset plan, including a trip Tuesday to Newport News, Va., an area that could be hurt by the defense cuts. His message to America: The cuts will be drastic; they'll result in job loss, and Republicans will be to blame.
Polling suggests the president's strategy may be working. A new Washington Post-Pew Research poll showed that 45 percent of Americans would blame congressional Republicans if the cuts took effect, while 32 percent would blame Obama. An additional 13 percent said both sides would share in the blame.
But getting the public to blame Republicans doesn't ensure the president gets what he wants in this latest budget battle. It could also deepen the mistrust between the president and congressional Republicans.
And that may put Obama right back where he started: still searching for a way to fight a Republican "fever" that may have eased but has hardly broken.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Julie Pace covers the White House for The Associated Press. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC