The panel was supposed to find ways to save U.S. taxpayers at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade. The deadline for a deal is Wednesday.
On ABC's "This Week with Christianne Amanpour," Emanuel responded to criticism that President Barack Obama hasn't been as involved as he should have been.
"He put an insurance policy in there, that if you fail, if Congress doesn't do its job, there is going to be automatic cuts. And that was the insurance policy both to motivate them but to make sure that America got the types of changes and cuts and reforms that were necessary," Emanuel said.
"It wasn't so much of a failure as it was a failure to seize an opportunity. And if it's not this opportunity, this nation better seize another one or we will be in economic trouble," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Hensarling said nobody wants to give up hope for a deal but said, "Reality is to some extent starting to overtake hope."