A group of celebrities has written an open letter to President Obama, asking for a reformed prison system and looser drug policies. Reuters

The 2013 cuts to defense and domestic programs known as a sequester are likely to take effect at midnight tonight, after a meeting between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders on Friday failed to produce a last-ditch compromise.

The two sides met for about an hour, resulting in no compromise on an agreement to avert the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.

Following the meeting, President Barack Obama held a press conference in which he said Washington is not making it easy and called the failure inexcusable. He said sequestration will take effect because of a “choice Republicans in Congress made.”

Republicans are refusing a tax increase as a solution for averting the sequester that will go into effect when Obama issues the order around midnight tonight.

Two alternatives – one from Democrats, which includes taxes and spending cuts, and another from Republicans, which keeps the cut but give Obama some flexibility – failed to garner the 60 votes needed in the Senate yesterday because neither satisfied the other party.

Obama said he is still hopeful about preventing sequestration. He said lawmakers should keep in mind who they are working for: the American public.

“We are not here for ourselves, we are not here for our parties,” he said. “We are here for American families. This is not a win for anybody. This is a loss for the American people.”

The president also said he is aware Republican House Speaker John Boehner has challenges in his caucus. However, while he can encourage Democrats to make concessions, Obama said he “can’t force Congress to do the right thing. The American people may be able to do that.”

Approximately 750,000 people are set to gradually lose their jobs when the sequestration order is given. Teachers are also subject to furloughs and there will be fewer food inspections, among other effects.

Traveling may be affected over time because of reductions in the workforce at the Federal Aviation Authority.

Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had warned that there would be “no last-minute back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes.”

After the meeting House Speaker Boehner said, “The House has laid out a plan to avoid the sequester. I would hope that the Senate would act. But let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”