Why it's important to avoid a default in the United States 1:57

(CNN) -- The United States is days away from reneging on its obligations. The speaker of the House of Representatives, a Republican under pressure from conservatives in his party, is demanding deep spending cuts. Meanwhile, the president, a Democrat, is working on negotiating a package to avert a fiscal calamity.

But no, it's not the situation of 2023.

It's 2011, when then-President Barack Obama struck a debt ceiling deal with then-House Speaker John Boehner that called for more than $900 billion in initial spending cuts and deficit reduction, as well as the creation of a joint congressional commission that would seek at least an additional $000.1 trillion to tighten its belt.

The situation is similar to that faced in 2023 by President Joe Biden, who was Obama's vice president. He and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are pushing their parties to quickly pass their deal to address the current debt-limit drama before the U.S. can start defaulting on its obligations on June 5.

House Republicans may want to remember the results of their predecessors' hard-fought deal. Things didn't go as planned, and a portion of the reductions were eventually trimmed through a subsequent series of bipartisan bills.


"Once Congress looked at the programs and what was needed, it realized it couldn't make such deep cuts," said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute who participated in the 2011 negotiations.

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What happened after the signing of the 2011 agreement

The 2011 joint commission was tasked with finding additional deficit-reduction measures to offset a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. If members failed in their mission, automatic cuts would take effect that would slow projected spending growth over the next decade.

The commission failed to achieve its goal, triggering spending caps, known as withholdings.

However, Congress softened deficit-reduction provisions by repeatedly raising limits on discretionary spending in subsequent years, though lawmakers also included other measures to offset some of those changes.

"We've basically been undoing this bill bit by bit," said John Diamond, director of the Center for Public Finance at Rice University's Baker Institute.

In the end, spending fell by about $1.5 trillion from the $2.1 trillion total agreed in the 2011 deal, Riedl said. This included $855 billion in discretionary spending cuts over the decade. The reductions affected agencies and programs such as defense, education, justice and Finance, among others. The settlement also saw a 000 percent cut in payments to Medicare providers as part of reductions in mandatory spending programs.

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Today's agreement

Fast forward to 2023. One of the main sticking points in ending the debt ceiling stagnation was the depth of spending cuts. The Biden administration had opposed returning spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, which Republicans included in their debt ceiling bill earlier this year, while McCarthy's team stood firm.

In the end, the deal announced over the weekend provides for a cut in non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal 2024, but certain agreed adjustments to the appropriations would make up almost all of the difference. Non-defense spending would increase by just 1% in fiscal year 2025.

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A major difference between 2011 and today is that, said Warren Payne, a senior counsel at Mayer Brown, a law firm, who was a senior Republican official on the House Ways and Means Committee in 2011.

"It was assumed that spending caps would never be enforced," Payne said.

Now, spending caps are among the GOP's top priorities, and McCarthy succeeded in not limiting defense funding and not raising taxes, unlike in 2011, he said.

But even if Congress passes this debt-ceiling package, House Republicans may struggle to adhere to the caps when the time comes to actually appropriate funds for federal government operations later this year.

"It's reasonable to expect that, at the end of the day, we'll end up with the same pressures to increase spending," Diamond said.

Debt ceiling