There were exceptions. NPR’s Michele Norris did a segment on how the automatic cuts could be averted on August 3, and an editorial in The New York Times published on August 2, the day the supercommittee was created, was all over the dubiousness of trigger mechanisms.
That trigger mechanism, of course, is another fundamentally antidemocratic gimmick designed to take legislative choices out of the hands of elected legislators. It is based on the premise that lawmakers can’t be trusted to make hard choices on their own, but history makes clear that such triggers also can’t be trusted. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law of 1985 had ferocious automatic cuts, which—surprise—Congress turned out not to like. Lawmakers used tricks and loopholes to get around them.
Supercommittees and trigger mechanisms have a terrible track record in Washington because they constrain responsibility and political choice. The world changes every month, and legislative straitjackets are almost always discarded after a big show of lacing them on. This bill, like its predecessors, will probably be sharply modified years from now after the fight that produced it is long forgotten. In the meantime, voters should be wary of politicians who substitute gimmickry for governing.
Patrick Sharma likewise had an opinion piece in Politico, “Triggers to cut deficits don’t work” that made the point and walked readers through how the very similar “Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act” of 1985 didn’t work.
Most reporters seem to have caught on in the last month as the deadline drew nearer, with little sign of a deal. But before that, too many were slow on the trigger.