Washington is back to square one after the congressional supercommittee failed to reach an agreement that would dent the national debt, currently at a whopping $15 trillion.
Deep political divisions over taxes and spending proved to be too much for the 12-member committee.
Monday's collapse of the deficit-cutting panel means Congress' emergency backup budget-cutting plan is now supposed to take over.
That means automatic, across-the-board spending cuts of more than $1 trillion from the military, as well as domestic government programs like Medicare, which total about $55 billion annually for each category.
The big federal deficit reductions wouldn't kick in until January 2013, allowing ample time for lawmakers to try to rework the cuts or hope that newly elected government leaders will reverse them.
President Obama has vowed to exercise his executive power, saying he "will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts."
Still, the president's own Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is urging caution.
Panetta's imploring Congress to avoid cuts "that will tear a seam in the nation's defense."
"The half-trillion in additional cuts demanded by sequester would lead to a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned," Panetta warned in a statement Monday.
In addition, communities that depend on military installations to drive their economy have a lot at stake.
"What the Congress believes and what the American people believe, which is, we have yet to make a fundamental decision on whether to address the problems that we face (or) we ought to be seeing big increases in taxes or whether we ought to be seeing real restraint in spending," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said.
The group of six Republicans and six Democrats needed to reach a deal by Monday to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. When they failed, stock prices plummeted at home and across debt-scarred Europe.
Still, the panel's co-chairs say the nation's fiscal crisis must be dealt with and not left to the next generation to solve.