Despite an earlier report from CNN that the Obama administration had successfully challenged the model used by Standard & Poor to justify downgrading the credit of the United States, the rating agency has gone ahead with the change, lowering the U.S. from AAA to AA+.
A statement released by S&P made it clear that the rating agency is hoping to encourage both tax increases and sweeping entitlement cuts.
It reads, in part, “We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.”
The statement was also scathing about the disorder within Congress and the general failure of U.S. policymaking:
“The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
“More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
“Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
“The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already responded with a statement of his own, saying, “The action by S&P reaffirms the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines spending cuts with revenue-raising measures like closing taxpayer-funded giveaways to billionaires, oil companies and corporate jet owners. This makes the work of the joint committee all the more important, and shows why leaders should appoint members who will approach the committee’s work with an open mind – instead of hardliners who have already ruled out the balanced approach that the markets and rating agencies like S&P are demanding.”