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Context of 'August 5, 2011: Standard & Poor’s Reduces US Credit Rating'

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In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. [CBS News, 8/1/2011; The Hill, 8/1/2011] Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).

Entity Tags: Standard & Poor’s, Congressional Budget Office, CBS News, John Boehner, Scott Pelley, US House of Representatives, US Senate, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

The outside of the Standard & Poor’s office complex on Wall Street.The outside of the Standard & Poor’s office complex on Wall Street. [Source: Satellite Radio Playground (.com)]The US loses its top-rank AAA credit rating from the financial services company Standard & Poor’s; the firm drops the US credit rating one notch to AA-plus. The US has never had anything but top-tier credit ratings in its financial history, and has top credit ratings from S&P since 1941. S&P makes its decision based on the huge Congressional battle over raising the US’s debt ceiling, normally a routine procedural matter that was used by Congressional Republicans, who threatened to block the ceiling raise unless they were given dramatic spending cuts by the entire Congress and the White House. (House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his Republican colleagues got “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling deal—see August 1, 2011.) Because of the dispute, the US was hours away from an unprecedented credit default until legislation was finally signed and the default avoided. S&P also cites the government’s budget deficit and rising debt burden as reasons for the rating reduction, saying in a statement, “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.” The drop in the US credit rating will result in a rise in US borrowing costs for American consumers, companies, and the government. US treasury bonds, once seen as the safest securities in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Canada. S&P says the outlook on the US’s credit rating is “negative,” implying another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months. A senior investment officer with a West Coast management company says such a downgrade was “once unthinkable,” and says the entire global economic system will be affected. After the fierce Congressional battle, President Obama signed legislation mandating $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, but S&P officials had asked for $4 trillion in savings as a “down payment” for restoring the US’s financial stability. Part of S&P’s rationale for the downgrade is its assumption that Congressional Republicans will not allow tax cuts implemented by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003 to expire as scheduled by the end of 2012. The Obama administration immediately notes that S&P’s made a $2 trillion error in calculating the US debt, an error that the firm acknowledges but says does not affect its decision to downgrade the US credit rating. A Treasury Department spokeswoman says, “A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011] Credit rating agencies such as S&P have suffered tremendous damage to their credibility in recent years; a Congressional panel called the firms “essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction” after what the New York Times calls “their wildly optimistic models [that] led them to give top-flight reviews to complex mortgage securities that later collapsed.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011]
S&P Explains Decision: 'Political Brinksmanship' - S&P explains its decision in a press release. The firm is “pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the [Obama a]dministration 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.” Fiscal policy decisions between Congress and the White House, the firm says, “will remain a contentious and fitful process.” The firm accuses Congressional Republicans in particular of “political brinksmanship” in threatening to allow a debt default if their conditions were not met, and says such tactics destabilize both the US and the global economy. “The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” the firm says. “[T]he majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the” legislation. “The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.” [Standard and Poor's, 8/5/2011] In an email before the debt ceiling was raised, S&P’s global head of sovereign ratings wrote: “What’s changed is the political gridlock. Even now, it’s an open question as to whether or when Congress and the administration can agree on fiscal measures that will stabilize the upward trajectory of the US government debt burden.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011]
GOP Presidential Candidates, Congressional Members Blame Obama - The day after the downgrade, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail blame the Obama administration for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011).
Economist Lambasts S&P, Blames Congressional Republicans - Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman lambasts S&P and blames Congressional Republicans for the downgrade (see August 5-6, 2011).

Entity Tags: US Congress, US House of Representatives, Timothy Geithner, Paul Krugman, Obama administration, Barack Obama, John Boehner, New York Times, Standard & Poor’s, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. [Washington Post, 8/6/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011; National Journal, 8/6/2011; Politico, 8/7/2011; Politico, 8/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Timothy Geithner, David Loebsack, Ben LaBolt, Tim Pawlenty, Tim Kaine, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, John Boehner, Jon Huntsman, Chris Coons, Ronald H. Johnson, National Republican Congressional Committee, Michele Bachmann

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Joydeep Mukherji, the senior director for the credit firm Standard & Poor’s, says that one of the key reasons the US lost its AAA credit rating (see August 5, 2011) was because many Congressional figures expressed little worry about the consequences of a US credit default, and some even said that a credit default would not necessarily be a bad thing (see May 20, 2011). Politico notes that this position was “put forth by some Republicans.” Mukherji does not name either political party, but does say that 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. That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable. This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.” Since the US lost its AAA credit rating, many Republicans have sought to blame the Obama administration (see August 6-9, 2011), even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he and his fellow Republicans “got 98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling legislation whose passage led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, led many Republican “tea party” members in voting against raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and claimed that even if the US did not raise its debt ceiling, it would not go into default, a statement unsupported by either facts or observations by leading economists (see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011). “I want to state unequivocally for the world, as well as for the markets, as well as for the American people: I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” she said. Now, however, one of Bachmann’s colleagues, Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA), says that the media, and S&P, misinterpreted the Republican position. “No one said that would be acceptable,” McClintock says of a possible default. “What we said was in the event of a deadlock it was imperative that bondholders retain their confidence that loans made to the United States be repaid on schedule.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says of S&P’s response to the default crisis: “They, like many people, looked at this terrible debate we’ve had over the past few months, should the US default or not, really a remarkable thing for a country like the United States. And that was very damaging.” [Politico, 8/11/2011] TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler recalls: “For weeks, high-profile conservative lawmakers practically welcomed the notion of exhausting the country’s borrowing authority, or even technically defaulting. Others brazenly dismissed the risks of doing so. And for a period of days, in an earlier stage of the debate, Republican leaders said technical default would be an acceptable consequence, if it meant the GOP walked away with massive entitlement cuts in the end.” He accuses McClintock of trying to “sweep the mess they’ve made down the memory hole” by lying about what he and fellow Republicans said in the days and weeks before the debt ceiling legislation was passed. Beutler notes statements made by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), where they either made light of the consequences of a possible credit default or said that a default was worthwhile if it, as Cantor said, triggered “real reform.” Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX), one of the “tea party” members, accused the Obama administration of lying about the consequences of default; Beutler writes, “This was a fairly common view among conservative Republicans, particularly in the House” (see July 14, 2011). [TPMDC, 8/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Brian Beutler, Joydeep Mukherji, US Congress, Standard & Poor’s, Timothy Geithner, Paul Ryan, Obama administration, John Boehner, Tom McClintock, Politico

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Ethan Harris of Bank of America.Ethan Harris of Bank of America. [Source: National Association for Business Economics]Many prominent economists and financial leaders lay the blame for the US credit rating downgrade (see August 5, 2011) at the feet of Congressional Republicans. Republicans have been unified in blaming the Obama administration’s economic policies for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011), though House Speaker John Boehner boasted that he and his fellow Republicans received “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt-ceiling legislation that led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman, a self-described liberal, blamed Congressional Republicans for the downgrade hours after credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced it (see August 5-6, 2011), and S&P itself implied that Republicans were at fault for the downgrade for being willing to risk sending the nation into default if they were blocked from getting their way in the debt-ceiling legislation (see August 11, 2011). Even before the credit rating downgrade, the New York Times reports, “macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year—for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever—was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years” (see May 20, 2011). These economists and forecasters generally agree with the Obama administration’s wishes to immediately stimulate the economy to include greater private-sector spending and create more jobs, with spending cuts more useful as a long-term remedy. Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, however, continue to insist that their policies are what will rescue the US economy; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says that he and his fellow Republicans “were not elected to raise taxes or take more money out of the pockets of hardworking families and business people,” and will never consider tax or revenue increases of any sort. Even Republican economic figures such as Reagan advisor Martin Feldstein and Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, say that revenue increases should balance any spending cuts, a position Congressional Republicans—particularly “tea party” Republicans such as presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN)—refuse to countenance. Bank of America senior economics research official Ethan Harris writes: “Given the scale of the debt problem, a credible plan requires both revenue enhancement measures and entitlement reform. Washington’s recent debt deal did not include either.” Ian C. Shepherdson, the chief US economist for research firm High Frequency Economist, says, “I think the US has every chance of having a good year next year, but the politicians are doing their damnedest to prevent it from happening—the Republicans are—and the Democrats to my eternal bafflement have not stood their ground.” Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, and Laurence H. Meyer, former Federal Reserve governor, both call the Republicans’ calls for spending cuts “job-kill[ers].” Bill Gross, head of the bond-trading firm Pimco, lambasts Republicans and what he calls “co-opted Democrats” for throwing aside widely accepted economic theory for Republican-led insistence that draconian spending cuts, largely in social safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare, will “cure” the US’s economic ills. Instead, Gross writes: “An anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking. Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.” [New York Times, 8/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Ian Shepherdson, US Congress, Eric Cantor, Bill Gross, Standard & Poor’s, Henry Paulson, Paul Krugman, New York Times, Joel Prakken, John Boehner, Laurence H. Meyer, Martin Feldstein, Michele Bachmann, Ethan Harris, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” [Washington Post, 4/13/2012; iWatch News, 4/20/2012; Think Progress, 4/20/2012]
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” [iWatch News, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, National Right to Life Committee, Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Crossroads GPS, Washington Post, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Melanie Sloan, Campaign Law Center, Bill Allison, Jonathan Collegio, Steven Law, Harold Simmons, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy 21, Republican Jewish Coalition, Bobby Jack Perry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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