1:00pm

Sun August 7, 2011
Politics

Downgrade Illustrates Washington's Dysfunction

Originally published on Mon August 8, 2011 4:24 am

When Standard & Poor's downgraded the United State's credit rating, it said that the "effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened." In other words, S&P was down on Washington's dysfunction, distrust and gridlock. The reactions to S&P's move — at least the reactions seen on TV — suggest that the ratings agency may have had a point.

There was just one sliver of bipartisan agreement. On CNN's "State of the Union," business executive and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes called Standard & Poor's downgrade of the nation's credit rating "outrageous."

"I'm surprised S&P would play politics," he said. "The U.S. government can pay interest and the principal on the bonds."

On the same show, Larry Summers, former head of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration, also knocked S&P. He alluded to the rating agency missing the call when it graded toxic real estate bonds AAA and to what the Obama administration called a $2 trillion miscalculation of the country's debt.

"Look," said Summers, "S&P's track record has been terrible and, as we've seen this weekend, their arithmetic is worse."

But Republican Sen. John McCain said "don't shoot the messenger."

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said that it's not Standard & Poor's fault that the country can't deal with its fiscal and political problems. McCain instead blamed President Obama, in particular --for failing to lead — and Democrats in general for their rhetoric.

"Lately the Democrats have been calling us terrorists," he said. "So we need to lower that level of rhetoric, obviously."

Another Republican said dollars and cents, not rhetoric, was the issue. On "Fox News Sunday," Congressman Paul Ryan said the budget he authored — and that the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected — would have solved all the problems that Standard & Poor's cited as reasons for the credit downgrade.

"Our partners on the other side of the aisle have been unwilling to reform the programs that are the cause of our future debt problems," he said.

But on CBS's "Face the Nation," David Axelrod, President Obama's chief political strategist, knew who to blame for the current crisis and it wasn't Democrats.

"This is essentially a Tea Party downgrade," he said. If not for the Tea Party, he reasoned, President Obama would've been able to close the debt ceiling deal with House Speaker John Boehner. But then Boehner "went back to his caucus and he had to yield to the most strident voices in his party and they played brinksmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States, and this was the result of that."

Later in the same program, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defended the Tea Party.

"The Tea Party hasn't destroyed Washington," he said. "Washington was destroyed before the Tea Party got there."

And President Obama, said Graham, is to blame for that.

"Everything is worse," he said. "Unemployment up by 18 percent, gas prices are up by 93 percent. ... He's had a chance. We're three years into this, and he's failing and it's not the Tea Party's fault."

The reaction to the credit downgrade began to get lost in an argument about the impact of the Tea Party. Howard Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee, spoke in the same segment of the show as Graham.

Tea Partiers, said Dean, are "totally unreasonable and doctrinaire and not founded in reality. I think they've been smoking some of that tea, not just drinking it."

The debate between Graham and Dean ultimately devolved into a simultaneous shouting match. Anchor Bob Schieffer broke in, apologizing for ending the segment "just when it's getting good."

Maybe good. Or bad. Or just more of the same.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, Host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene. When Standard & Poor's downgraded the United States' credit rating, it said that the, quote, "effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened." In other words, S&P's down on Washington's dysfunction, distrust and gridlock. Today, the political reactions to the downgrade suggested that the ratings agency might have a point. NPR's Ina Jaffe has the story.

INA JAFFE: Let's start with the one sliver of bipartisan agreement in today's comments on the downgrade. On CNN's "State of the Union," business executive and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes called Standard & Poor's downgrade of the nation's credit rating outrageous.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

STEVE FORBES: I'm surprised S&P would play politics. The U.S. government can pay the interest and the principle on the bonds.

JAFFE: On the same show, Larry Summers, former head of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration, also knocked S&P. He alluded to the rating agency missing the call when it graded toxic real estate bonds AAA and to what the Obama administration called a $2 trillion miscalculation of the country's debt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

LARRY SUMMERS: Look, S&P's track record has been terrible, and as we've seen this weekend, its arithmetic is worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JOHN MCCAIN: By the way, on the S&P thing, don't shoot the messenger.

JAFFE: Said Republican Senator John McCain on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's not Standard & Poor's fault that the country can't deal with its fiscal and political problems. McCain instead blamed President Obama, in particular, for failing to lead, and Democrats in general for their rhetoric.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

MCCAIN: Lately, the Democrats have been calling us terrorists. So we need to lower that level of rhetoric, obviously.

JAFFE: Another Republican said it was dollars and cents, not rhetoric, that was the issue. Congressman Paul Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday" that the budget he authored, and that the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected, would have solved all the problems that Standard & Poor's cited as reasons for the credit downgrade.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

PAUL RYAN: Our partners on the other side of the aisle have been unwilling to reform the programs that are the cause of our future debt problems.

JAFFE: No, it's not the Democrats' fault, said David Axelrod, President Obama's chief political strategist on CBS' "Face the Nation."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

DAVID AXELROD: The fact of the matter is that this is essentially a Tea Party downgrade.

JAFFE: If it weren't for the Tea Party, said Axelrod, the president would've been able to close the debt ceiling deal with House Speaker John Boehner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

AXELROD: Then he went back to his caucus and he had to yield to his - the most strident voices in his party. And they played brinksmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States. And this was the result of that.

JAFFE: But later on "Face the Nation," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defended the Tea Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

LINDSEY GRAHAM: The Tea Party hasn't destroyed Washington; Washington was destroyed before the Tea Party got there.

JAFFE: And President Obama is to blame, said Graham.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

GRAHAM: Everything is worse. Unemployment is up by 18 percent. Gas prices are up by 93 percent. He's had a chance. We're three years into this, and he's failing and it's not the Tea Party's fault.

JAFFE: The reaction to the credit downgrade began to get lost in an argument about the impact of the Tea Party. Howard Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee, spoke in the same segment as Graham.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

HOWARD DEAN: They are totally unreasonable and doctrinaire and not founded in reality. I think they've been smoking some of that tea, not just drinking it.

JAFFE: In the end, the debate between Graham and Dean ended like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

DEAN: You said President Obama would be fired. The truth is if this was a private...

GRAHAM: You're sitting on the sidelines blaming others. The truth of the matter, Howard...

JAFFE: But all TV shows must come to an end and anchor Bob Schieffer broke in.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

BOB SCHIEFFER: Gentlemen, I'm very sorry, just when it's getting good.

JAFFE: Good, or bad, or maybe just more of the same. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.