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August 12, 2011 10:00 AM Blame the people who get eaten by bears

By Steve Benen

As the Republicans’ debt-ceiling hostage strategy dragged on, there was a noticeable split among GOP officials. Most congressional Republicans, including the leadership in both chambers, agreed that the debt limit had to be raised, though they would refuse to go along — deliberately crashing the economy — unless Democrats paid a steep ransom.

But there was also a painfully large contingent that approved of the hostage strategy, but didn’t necessarily fear the consequences. For these GOP lawmakers, raising the debt ceiling wasn’t a high priority because failure wouldn’t do any damage anyway — so they welcomed default. In one memorable example, a right-wing Republican from Alabama proudly proclaimed the nation’s credit rating “should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.”

A senior administration official said those who simply choose not to believe any of the warnings, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

As it turns out, these are also the kinds of people who get our credit rating lowered.

A Standard & Poor’s director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default — a position put forth by some Republicans.

Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default,” Mukherji said.

“That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable,” he added. “This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”

No, perhaps not. Some voters in the United States, for reasons that trouble me, are comfortable in electing lunatics to Congress. Apparently, the ratings agencies noticed.

Now, there’s a compelling case to be made that Standard & Poor’s has a job to do, and it doesn’t include pretending to be political scientists. It’s a ratings agency, not a group of pundits, and downgrading a nation’s debt because some wild-eyed yahoos in Congress said crazy things is a terrible mistake. Capitol Hill’s most glaring idiots, after all, lost, an agreement was reached, and the debt ceiling was raised.

But even if we put all of that aside, shouldn’t the S&P comments yesterday put to rest, once and for all, who’s responsible for the downgrade? Republicans talked up default; Republicans refused to compromise; Republicans won’t accept revenue; and Republicans deliberately played a radical game with the full faith and credit of the United States. S&P didn’t leave much doubt about which side of the aisle the agency considers responsible for undermining global confidence in the American system.

So can the political world stop pretending there’s an open question about culpability here?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • stormskies on August 12, 2011 10:11 AM:

    So can the political world stop pretending there’s an open question about culpability here?

    That's impossible. Their corporate salaries require them to do the bidding of the corporations that hire them.

  • Holmes on August 12, 2011 10:13 AM:

    While I'm more than happy to see them put the blame on the crazy Republicans, this looks a bit like the S&P clowns are trying to cover their ass. It certainly didn't help their credibility when investors continued to flock to US Treasuries after the downgrade, making any decision based on economic grounds look all the more absurd.

  • ckelly on August 12, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Capitol Hill’s most glaring idiots, after all, lost,

    Lost? Really? No tax increases. No measure to increase revenue whatsoever. Tax cuts extended for the rich and famous. Social programs get the axe. Social Security and Medicare targeted. Lost? Really?

  • T2 on August 12, 2011 10:14 AM:

    unfortunately, and predictably, the Media downplayed or "balanced" the S&P's quite clear indictment of the TeaParty in the debt fiasco. There was no nuance in the S&P statement. However the Media blew past that to the "GOP won't raise taxes like the Dems wanted and the Dems won't cut "entitlements like the GOP wanted". That was the take.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 12, 2011 10:23 AM:

    That's impossible. Their corporate salaries require them to do the bidding of the corporations that hire them.

    Wouldn't those corporations prefer not to have the US gov't run by idiots who are willing to crash the economy?

    Here's where things get interesting. Wall Street has got to perceive that we can't afford to let Republicans have power. They're not crazy about the regulated-but-friendly climate favored by centrist Dems, including the President, but it's got to be better than the status quo.

    So at what point do the money crowd start pulling strings to get the GOP loons out? This could happen both through campaign donations and through favorable media coverage. I don't think it's going to happen through GOP primaries, though, because i don't think there are enough sane people left who identify as Republican in any of the districts that have elected these clowns.

    Hell, even Rupert Murdoch has got to be losing $$$ because of the idiots he got into Congress, which may be the only silver lining in all of this.

  • davidp on August 12, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Given all the other nonsense that these people believe, it's not at all surprising that they are deluding themselves about the debt ceiling and the credit rating as well. In their heart of hearts they probably believe the sun goes round the earth.

  • c u n d gulag on August 12, 2011 10:24 AM:

    But, but, the MSM will tell you:
    "S&P, a ratings agency, said that the US rating was downgraded because of a political environment where people in Congreass expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default.
    And a Congressman from Sphincter-stop Iowa said that the reason S&P downgraded the US is because we DID raise the debt ceiling."

    'With what we report, you have no clue how to decide.'

    Seriously, start naming names.

    Not one, NOT ONE, 1, Uno, O-N-E, Democrats was for not raising the debt ceiling, yet S&P can't name the real culprits?

    Jesus H. Christ investing in derivitives, can't anyone tell people the truth anymore?

    Not specifying who's to blame, that's like saying, take your pick:
    well, the Boy Scouts holding a camp-out, and the James Gang, were both in the same area, so we don't know who held up the bank. YOU figure it out!

  • jjm on August 12, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Americans seem to love blood sports in their politics. I notice the NYT this morning headlines Obama's speech in Holland Michigan as excoritating "Republicans" and throughout the article they repeat this.

    He never once pronounced the word "Republican". He spoke of a bickering Congress that it was just as well to keep out of Washington as long as possible.

    All this to evoke the aura of a stinging, nasty fight. Obama doesn't go that route. And he should not.

    It's only the news media that really want the blood, so they can make news, and ADDICT you to it at the same time.

    Meanwhile, the NYT also eggs on the fighting with an article about how the people at town halls are insisting their reps keep on fighting as they had been. But it is curiously devoid of actual quotations. Nothing about the reports we've seen of push back against tea partiers. They also salt in a little 'liberal' plants are the few heckling, even though they themselves site them OUTSIDE the halls.

  • August on August 12, 2011 10:26 AM:

    Let's not forget that there were crazies on the left (Looking at you Peter Daou, saying a "principled" progressive would support a default, ya nutter) who were also pushing to default. Our political culture has been overtaken by partisan weirdos who put their own policies ahead of things like civilization. Fuck them, not S&P for making the call they're supposed to make.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 12, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Many keep repeating that Republican politicians are intransigent on the subject of raising taxes. This is absolutely not the truth!

    We republicans will support raising taxes. To say that we republicans are completely opposed to raising taxes is demonstrably false!

    We favor changing the law so that those who currently do not make enough income to pay income taxes should have to pay a minimum percentage income tax. Say, maybe 10% so that with FICA and other payroll taxes their effective tax rates would be higher than the job creating hedge fund managers.

    We favor increasing the FICA and other payroll taxes, just so long as we balance that with income tax cuts for those job creators making more than $1M a year.

    We favor collecting income taxes on social security, medicare, unemployment benefits and more.

    Stop lying and saying we oppose all increases in revenue for the federal government! When you agree to the tax increases that we find acceptable, we will agree to raising them.

  • just bill on August 12, 2011 10:34 AM:

    can we arrest them for treason yet?

  • nerd on August 12, 2011 10:35 AM:

    Things will only change from the way they are now when the Democrats stop letting the Republicans set the rules.

    The Republicans always divert attention from the real issues that need to be addressed (today's is jobs) by talking about things that are not real issues (inflation!, deficits!) and have an unbelievable discipline across an otherwise divergent group of people.

    Until Democrats are willing to have a similar discipline when it comes to talking about the real issues the Republicans will continue to have the cameras and microphones focus on them,

  • N B on August 12, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Bears ... Not just Wall Street (notice how they don't give Obama credit, such as it is, for the rise in DJIA - even with recent dips - since he assumed office? Drudge only puts the dips, he's the dip ...) Heh, maybe those Christianist Tealiban like that Bible story about God sending bears to kill 42 children for mocking Elisha's bald head:

    2 Kings:

    "2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
    2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

  • kindness on August 12, 2011 10:47 AM:

    C'mon Steve, the Village prefers to have Republicans running the show. Liberal MSM is a lie and has been since Nixon & Watergate. Now they will all make every excuse, even incredibly crazy and untrue ones to defend their boys.

    It's one big circle jerk for the MSM & they aren't going to let the one to their left miss a beat as it's their own satisfaction that's at stake.

  • square1 on August 12, 2011 10:51 AM:

    S&P's decision cannot be defended. It was a political hit job by Wall Street assholes who didn't want the teabaggers dragging the economy off a cliff but still can't stand Democrats and wanted them to take the blame. The fact that S&P got the math that they used to defend the downgrade wrong was the cherry on top.

    The U.S. has complete control over it's currency. Oh, and it is backstopped by IMF. To downgrade U.S. makes no sense without downgrading Germany, etc. There was zero chance of a default. Yes, the economy could have crashed. But the bonds would have gotten paid.

    Benen's effort to blame the GOP for the downgrade is too clever by half. Whatever minor political benefit that may accrue to Democrats by pointing fingers at the GOP is not worth the harm that comes from validating S&P's bullshit methodology.

  • TCinLA on August 12, 2011 10:54 AM:

    So can the political world stop pretending there’s an open question about culpability here?

    Sorry, no. Telling people who is right and who is wrong would violate the monkey-see/monkey-do they learned in How-To-Be-A-Jurnelest school.

    And the people who hire these morons don't want it to happen, because all this horse-racing chaos sells newspapers and puts eyeballs to the teevee. Not to mention all the ones who own the media are far right scumballs themselves. And the morons they hire know which side the bread is buttered on and how hard it is for an otherwise-unemployable to get another job that pays as well after they're downsized.

    So please, Steve, the Pollyanna act is wearing thin. Most of the people you meet in the political world are morons or scumballs or both, and the sooner you realize that the less disappointed you will be.

  • kevo on August 12, 2011 11:02 AM:

    One cliche away in politics is always the case, and politics does make for interesting bedfellows!

    Political parties do have a hand in promoting policies, (or lack of policies), that will sustain our federal government's relationship with us the people between election cycles; when a vastly uninformed electorate will decide, most often in a plurality (as many of our elections don't reach the 50% turnout threshold), who among the post-Citizens United candidates will hold power!

    Well, 2010 has come and gone, and the crazies elected have put us at economic risk!

    The funny irony? (Though dangerous and threatening to sane folk world-wide!)

    They're being called out by a rating agency that is in the pockets of many of the Republican party's existing bedfellows! A once bumbling rating agency that got the meltdown all wrong presumably to protect political profit, is now telling the nuts in Congress to cool it, or worse things will happen! These nuts are now facing the criticism with full-on denial!

    Oh, where's my popcorn? -Kevo

  • samsa on August 12, 2011 11:14 AM:

    Too little too late, but nothing approaching real leadership from Obama.

    Obama should have drawn a line in the sand for a clean bill, and should have been prepared to use the constitutional remedies if the GOP did not pass such a bill.

    Obama has made the concept of passive Presidency into an art form. A useless President. The worst and the most effete Democratic President of the last hundred years.

  • Daddy Love on August 12, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Let's just pay off S&P until they tell us what we want to hear.

  • gus on August 12, 2011 11:17 AM:

    If you want Change and are disappointed with what you have gotten so far then finish the job of sending fewer Republicans to Congress and keep them out of the White House.

    In '08, something was started and given what we've dealt with in the past couple of years, which is continued disappointment, obviously the house isn't rid of the roaches.

    Continue making things more progressive.

  • square1 on August 12, 2011 12:57 PM:

    @c u n d gulag:

    Not one, NOT ONE, 1, Uno, O-N-E, Democrats was for not raising the debt ceiling,

    Unfortunately, it isn't that simple.

    Once Democrats placed conditions on raising the debt ceiling, they lost the moral high ground.

    Democratic position was "We will raise the debt ceiling if X". X being a combination of spending cuts and tax increases totaling an amount sufficient to put further votes past the November 2012 election.

    The Republican position was "We will raise the debt ceiling if Y". Y being a bunch of spending cuts.

    Now, you might prefer X to Y, I might prefer X to Y, and most Americans might prefer X to Y, but anyone who places conditions on raising the debt ceiling can be accused of holding the country hostage to their personal policy preferences, including Democrats.

    Where one to argue that Democrats would vote for a clean bill if given the opportunity, I would point out that House Democrats WERE given the opportunity in May and 81 Democrats opposed the debt ceiling increase and 7 Democrats merely voted “present.”

    Perhaps most -- or even all -- of those Democrats would have voted for an increase had the voted taken place in July and had their votes been necessary for passage. But you can't simply declare no Democrats would oppose the increase when there is direct evidence to the contrary and you provide no explanation to back up your claim.

  • zandru on August 12, 2011 11:00 PM:

    "Capitol Hill's most glaring idiots, after all, lost, an agreement was reached, and the debt ceiling was raised."

    This makes it sound like we all lived happily ever after.

    Sorry, no - the extreme and insane deal that was worked out will pull money out of the economy, just as it's going down again and desperately needs an infusion of mucho federal dollars to stay on its feet. It'll make many federal employees unemployed. Social Security and Medicare are slated to be cut when the November talks fall through and we're in another hostage situation. Yet another opportunity for the Democrats to dishearten their base!

    Oh, and by the way - a new budget needs to be in place before October 1. Once Congress is back in town, it'll be a non-stop bloodbath; open season on Dems through Election Day 2012.

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