WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers reached into the past to find a way to enforce future budget cuts called for in the deal to raise the nation's $14.3-trillion debt limit, but history shows these enforcement mechanisms do not always work.
The agreement reached by congressional leaders and the White House calls up front for roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. Another $1.5 trillion worth of deficit reduction would be based on recommendations of a new bipartisan committee.
A major sticking point in the talks was the enforcement mechanism that would ensure further deficit reductions.
Under the deal, the special bipartisan panel would recommend steps to reduce the deficit. Any impasse by the panel or rejection of its recommendations by Congress would automatically trigger a round of spending cuts.
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Lawmakers said the triggered cuts would include defense spending dear to Republicans, and Medicare, which is important to Democrats. The idea is to pressure both parties to come to terms on future cuts.
"You want to avoid the trigger," said Democratic Senator Carl Levin.
The enforcement mechanism is very similar to the so-called Gramm-Rudman-Hollings spending cut trigger enacted in 1985.
That law, named after its sponsors, included unrealistic spending targets that were linked to the size of the economy and lawmakers quickly found ways around it, analysts said.
Exceeding the targets was meant to trigger a round of spending cuts.
The law was eventually abandoned in favor of another budget discipline. So-called pay-as-you-go rules required lawmakers to find savings to pay for new spending or tax cuts.
The pay-go discipline worked for a while, but left gaping loopholes for anything that could be deemed emergency spending.
Eventually, it too was abandoned by lawmakers.
Some analysts think the current political environment and threat of a credit rating downgrade might be enough to ensure the special congressional committee reaches agreement on the second round of deficit reduction and Congress gives its approval.