It is clear from Standard & Poor’s statement downgrading the federal government’s credit rating that it places the blame squarely on Republican actions and policies. Two of S&P’s biggest concerns about whether the United States will pay off its debt are whether Republicans will be so insane as to refuse to lift the debt ceiling, a possibility Republicans intentionally stoked fears of, and whether the United States will raise much-needed tax revenue. Specifically, S&P changed its baseline assumption that the Bush tax cuts would expire on schedule in 2012 because Republicans are so insistent that they must be renewed. “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues,” wrote S&P. That adds $4 trillion over ten years to the projected deficits.
So, how are Republican presidential candidates responding? By blaming President Obama, instead of their co-partisans in Congress who are actually responsible. “America’s creditworthiness just became the latest casualty in President Obama’s failed record of leadership on the economy,” said front-runner Mitt Romney in a statement. “His failed policies have led to high unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, and now, the unprecedented loss of our nation’s prized AAA credit rating.” Apparently, Romney knows better than S&P itself why it downgraded our credit rating, and it has nothing to do with lost revenue due to Republican tax cuts, or Republican threats not to pay our debts (a fairly straightforward threat to our creditworthiness if ever there was one.) No, it’s just because of our economic performance, which Romney seems to think is determined entirely by the actions of the president and is in no way beyond his control.
Nominal moderate Jon Huntsman was less partisan and more accurate in his apportioning of blame to Washington as a whole. “Out-of-control spending and a lack of leadership in Washington have resulted in President Obama presiding over the first downgrade of the United States credit rating in our history,” said Huntsman’s statement. “For far too long we have let reckless government spending go unchecked and the cancerous debt afflicting our nation has spread.” That’s perfectly in keeping with Huntsman’s strategy of positioning himself above the partisan fray as Obama and John McCain both did during the primaries last time. Of course, the spending decisions that have brought this on—invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, enacting Medicare Part D, increasing defense and security spending after September 11, 2001—were all initiatives of the Bush administration and his Republican servants in Congress. Huntsman neglects to mention that and instead passively criticizes Obama—but not House Speaker John Boehner—for “presiding over” the downgrade.
Michele Bachmann—who as a member of Congress who refused to vote for a debt ceiling increase is one of the people most responsible for the downgrade—issued a particularly dour statement. “President Obama is destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time,” said Bachmann.
Meanwhile Tim Pawlenty, speaking in Grinnell, Iowa, went on a baffling, nonsensical riff that twisted into knots trying to tie the downgrade to generic conservative talking points. “What he [President Obama] doesn’t understand is all this talk of the full faith and credit in the United States government, he needs to stop being reminded,” explained Pawlenty. “We need to have a president who understands what it means to put our full faith and credit in the American people. His vision for America is to take things out of the private sector and to put it into the government.” You can’t argue with that, can you?
Lost amid the finger-pointing is any review of how the downgrade could have been averted. But, of course, if you’re a Republican you probably don’t want to dwell too much on that question, because the ways we could have done so would come into conflict with Republicans’ obsessive subservience to the myopic interests of a few wealthy men like the Koch brothers and their fanatic supporters like Grover Norquist. Namely, we could have raised tax revenue. Note that I don’t say raising taxes, because we would not have to actually raise marginal rates. Merely allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on schedule would have done the trick. So would closing tax loopholes while actually lowering rates, had they passed the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction committee’s recommendations, or agreeing to Obama’s $4 trillion debt reduction proposal.
If you want to take a longer view of how the US debt reached this height, Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly made a timeline illustrating how it is almost entirely the Republicans’ fault. But the long view is not of any interest to the modern Republican Party.