Former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl was one of 12 people appointed to a congressional "super committee" responsible for coming up with a way to reduce the nation's budget deficit and pay down the country's debt.

The committee, which was half Republicans and half Democrats, half senators and half representatives, had a deadline to meet in the fall of 2011. As an incentive to find a solution to which both parties could agree, there was a catch: if they could not hash out a deal, then automatic federal budget cuts would begin in 2013.

That's the back story to the cuts that started this month, referred to as sequestration.

Sequestration is the focus of much media attention, but the path to it is history not often included in the coverage.

Kyl said he was not expecting this outcome, even after the super committee could not reach an agreement.

"I had enough confidence in my colleagues to believe that they would avoid the absolute worst result which would be sequestration and the devastating cuts to defense. Alas, my optimism was misplaced," he said in an interview.

Democrats entered the committee negotiations with the assumption that a budget agreement would have to include tax rate increases, Kyl said. Republicans entered the committee negotiations with the assumption that any agreement would have to include reforms for Medicate and Medicaid, he said. When neither side would compromise on those beliefs, they had a stalemate, he said.

Kyl said, in hindsight, he should have realized a stalemate in the super committee would lead to a stalemate in congress.

Listen to the interview: