Rumors are flying about a possible hearing involving Standard & Poor’s. It is believed the Senate Banking Committee is gathering information on the credit rating agency. Disgruntled over the loss of the government’s AAA rating, the rumored investigation is believed to be sparked by Treasury Department officials claiming that S&P’s judgment was affected by an error that overstated national debt projections by $2 trillion. And in the House, a few Republicans are wondering about talks S&P executives had with Treasury officials.
What is also being discussed as justification for a possible investigation is S&P’s, along with other rating agencies, failure to accurately rate mortgage securities which contributed to the housing bubble. The logic behind such an argument reflects a flawed train of thought, for surely if S&P failed to rate mortgage securities they didn’t correctly rate the U.S. government.
It appears, based upon actions, that the government hasn’t learned anything from the recent downgrade. Instead of taking responsibility, elected officials are looking for a scapegoat and have decided to place the blame on S&P.
As Samuel Gregg explains in, “Down on the Downgrade?” S&P’s failure to accurately rate mortgage securities shouldn’t dismiss the obvious, which is the United State’s inability to meet its fiscal obligations resulting in its credit downgrade:
There are many reasons to be cynical about ratings agencies. These are, after all, the same outfits that assured us collateralized-debt-obligation markets were doing fine just before they started imploding in 2007–2008. Their slowness in warning about the fading creditworthiness of corrupt entities such as Enron and government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a matter of record.
That said, Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade America’s creditworthiness shouldn’t surprise us. It simply states in a pseudo-official kind of way what everyone — citizens, investors, politicians, and maybe even Paul Krugman — already knows: The failure of Washington’s neo-Keynesian policies combined with the long-term projections for entitlement-spending have lowered confidence in the U.S.’s ability to meet its fiscal obligations.
The surprise that many in the government are showing by the U.S. credit downgrade is appalling. S&P published reports clearly articulating the fiscal policy that was needed in order for the government to preserve its AAA rating which included $4 trillion in savings (the budget includes only abut half of that in cuts). Furthermore, in a report released on August 5th, S&P doesn’t just blame the lack of savings but describes how entitlement spending is a problem:
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.
In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.
There are clear policy options the government needs to pursue if it wishes to return to fiscal health, and it should be of no surprise that such policies involve fiscal stewardship.
Instead of being humbled by the government’s loss of its triple AAA credit rating and learning from their mistakes, the politicians in Washington have chosen to sit on the sidelines. The lack of leadership in such a crucial time is astounding. Politicians are continuing down the path which brought them to this state: blaming others instead of accepting responsibility. It is time for some humility in Washington. Politicians need to admit to their mistakes and become leaders set on bringing America back on course.