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Context of 'August 6-9, 2011: Republicans Blame Obama Administration for Credit Downgrade Triggered by Debt Ceiling Legislation'

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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

New Republic senior editor John Judis writes of his disappointment that the financial services firm Standard & Poor’s did not explicitly cite the actions of House Republicans as the reason why it issued its downgrade to the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). One of the reasons why S&P issued its credit downgrade, it said, was because of the “political brinksmanship” waged by members of Congress, resulting in policymaking that has become “less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Judis notes that while it is virtually indisputable that the firm was referring to the actions of House Republicans who worked furiously to block debt-ceiling legislation (see July 13, 2011 and August 11, 2011), “the statement was sufficiently vague that Republicans could take it as laying the blame on the Obama administration for not agreeing to their proposals for raising the debt ceiling. And, indeed, Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential candidates have blamed President Barack Obama for S&P’s decision” (see August 6-9, 2011). “[T]hose appearing to discount the danger of a default were right-wing Republicans like Representative Michelle Bachmann and Senator Pat Toomey, who are identified with the Tea Party,” Judis writes. Senior S&P director Joydeep Mukherji “acknowledged that a major factor driving the downgrade was the utter irresponsibility and ignorance of a significant minority of Republican legislators,” but refused to cite those Republican lawmakers as responsible for the downgrade. Judis writes: “Why didn’t S&P say this more clearly in the original statement? I suspect it was out of a desire to appear non-partisan, but the effect was to apportion the blame equally on both parties. That is a disservice to the country because it allows a deranged faction of the Republican Party to continue to run riot in the Congress and to undermine any possible of a constructive response to the economic crisis.” Judis concludes, “I stand second to no one in criticizing the White House for failing to fight the Republicans, but it is worth recalling here that the principal cause of our counterproductive fiscal policy is the Republican opposition.” [New Republic, 8/12/2011]

Entity Tags: Pat Toomey, John Judis, Joydeep Mukherji, Obama administration, Standard & Poor’s, US House of Representatives, Republican Party, Willard Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, The New Republic

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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