| WASHINGTON, July 31
WASHINGTON, July 31 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
The agreement reached by congressional leaders and the
White House late Sunday 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
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.
The spending cuts "should be a sword of equal sharpness and
strength hanging over each party's head," Democratic Senator
Charles Schumer told CNN's "State of the Union."
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
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
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.
"The track record is not good on these enforcement
mechanisms," said G. William Hoagland, a former Republican
staff director for the Senate Budget Committee Republican.
Some analysts think the current political environment and
threat of a credit rating down grade might be enough to ensure
the special congressional committee reaches agreement on the
second round of deficit reduction and Congress gives its
"Not only is the Tea Party out there pushing on this stuff,
there is also the threat of a credit rating loss," said David
Kendall of the Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
The anti-Washington Tea Party movement, which helped
Republicans win power in Congress in last year's election, have
been a powerful force behind the push to cut federal spending.
But whatever spending cuts lawmakers put in place over the
next 10 years, they can always be reversed by a future
Steve Bell, a budget expert at the Bipartisan Policy
Center, said the latest enforcement mechanism in the debt limit
agreement likely has more teeth in it than previous trigger
mechanisms "as long as they don't ignore it."
(Reporting by Donna Smith; editing by Christopher Wilson)