Let’s acknowledge that the Tea Party played Russian roulette with America’s future. Which means it took five bullets out of the loaded revolver the U.S. had to its head and gave the country a fighting chance.
But it wasn’t enough. S&P has lowered our credit rating from AAA to AA+. We’re a worse bet than the UK, France, Canada, Germany, and 11 other countries that still enjoy triple-A status.
Did this happen because American politicians weren’t playing nicely? The uncertainty of the debt-ceiling debate contributed to the decision, but only in that it cast doubt on the U.S.’s ability to do precisely what S&P had said was necessary to avoid this outcome—the enacting of serious spending cuts.
The Tea Partiers were trying to stop the very thing that has now come to pass. Their critics mistake dire economic reality for merely “playing politics.” No one was interested in tying up the Democrats just to make them look bad. The brinksmanship was about halting the federal debt and the threat it poses to us all. In reality, the Obama administration began this discussion at the brink. When the debt-ceiling first came up, Democrats wanted no spending cuts, period. Forget Russian roulette, that’s liberal roulette and the odds are 100% against survival. Anything that the GOP proposed afterward was necessarily a walk back from the edge.
That the debate in Congress was messy doesn’t mean one side wasn’t right. If you think the Tea Party was reckless, consider the nonchalance of Barack Obama. On July 14, S&P issued a report spelling out—in plainest English—what it would take to secure our credit-rating: “If Congress and the Administration reach an agreement of about $4 trillion [in debt reduction], and if we … conclude that such an agreement would be enacted and maintained throughout the decade, we could, other things unchanged, affirm the ‘AAA’ long-term rating and A-1+ short-term ratings on the U.S.” The very next day, Obama held a press conference at which he assured the American people, “It turns out we don’t have to do anything radical to solve the problem.” Not only did the great pragmatist have no plan; he didn’t know he needed one.
That was the press conference during which Obama was all smiles and joked about his hope-and-change campaign. It was the last time we saw him in a good mood because the rest of Washington would soon grasp the point he missed, and that killed all his fun. If Obama couldn’t do it his way, he wasn’t interested, so he exited the debate and left Congress trying to stave off the inevitable. It should be no surprise that yesterday, one day after S&P made good on its word, Obama delivered his weekly address and said absolutely nothing about the downgrade. The threat wasn’t a problem for our president and neither is the reality.
Now, thanks to S&P, the rest of the country may grasp the magnitude of the change that’s needed. If not, the tenor of the spending fights ahead will make the debt-ceiling debate look like a beer summit.