”Well, it could work, [White House Budget Director Jack] Lew and [White House legislative affairs director Rob] Nabors explained.
“What would the impact be?
“They would design it so that half the threatened cuts would be from the Defense Department. . . . The idea was to make all of the threatened cuts so unthinkable and onerous that the supercommittee [tasked with making additional cuts] would do its work and come up with its own deficit reduction plan.
“Lew and Nabors went through a laundry list of programs that would face cuts.
“ ‘This is ridiculous,’ Reid said.
“That’s the beauty of a sequester, they said, it’s so ridiculous that no one ever wants it to happen. It was the bomb that no one wanted to drop. It actually would be an action-forcing event.
“ ‘I get it,’ Reid said finally.”
But most congressional leaders and their staffs were unfamiliar with the concept of a spending trigger and spent longer hours learning how the plan would work, according to Woodward.
Whether automatic triggers compel lawmakers and the White House to reach a deal in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but Rudman and his colleagues earn the credit (or blame) for hatching the idea.
In a 2006 Washington Post op-ed, Rudman also voiced support for a bipartisan commission to examine the nation’s fiscal future. The proposal, co-authored by former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., laid out a five-point plan for such a panel. Though many other lawmakers also supported and proposed such a commission, many of their ideas were incorporated in the establishment of the 2011 Simpson-Bowles Commission.
“In the end, of course, elected representatives, not a commission, will have to make the hard decisions,“ the pair wrote. ”But a commission that produced solutions with meaningful bipartisan support would provide a catalyst for action. If Congress were required to vote on the commission’s recommendations, opponents would be challenged to produce solutions of their own.”
That is exactly what is happening today.
Also worth noting is Rudman’s decision to retire from the Senate. As The Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson wrote shortly after he announced his plans to retire in April 1992: Rudman . . . hit a raw nerve the other week by announcing he won’t seek reelection. Rudman, one of Congress’s most respected members, said he’s frustrated. Government is spending itself into bankruptcy, and the problem is political leaders (in Congress and the White House) who won’t tell voters the truth — along with voters who don’t want to hear it.”
History sure has a way of repeating itself sometimes, doesn’t it?
Ed O’Keefe covers Congress for The Washington Post and is author of 2chambers, the Post’s blog tracking the House and the Senate.