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Posted at 10:25 AM ET, 08/08/2011

Downgrade blame? GOP gets it

As we continue to see the fallout from S&P’s downgrade of U.S. debt today, one thing should remain clear: Republican hostage-taking caused the downgrade. 

Greg already dealt with this over the weekend, but it needs to be said again, because much of the media coverage continues to operate on a principle of supposed "objectivity" that is premised on "fairness" to both parties rather than the actual facts. The most egregious example of this over the weekend came from Time’s Mark Halperin, who said that there is “blame to go around” and that it was wrong to vest it all with Republicans. The Associated Press even said the downgrade happened because the cuts in the deal weren't steep enough, without noting S&P's concerns about Republican opposition to additional revenue. Politico “reported ” that  "it was hard not to read the S&P analysis as a report card on Obama’s oft-repeated pledge to cure Washington’s hyper-partisanship," as though the fault lay on Obama for failing to persuade Republicans to be reckless, rather than on Republicans for being reckless. 

Of course there isn’t “blame to go around.” As the S&P report itself blamed “political brinksmanship” and “America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

The S&P report also faulted Republicans for being unwilling to raise taxes, but this is really a minor point. The downgrade was the result of Republicans turning a procedural vote on raising the debt ceiling into a hostage negotiation in which they were willing to put the full faith and credit of the United States on the line to secure policy concessions they wouldn't have been able to achieve otherwise, and they have made it clear they will do so again. In fact, as House Speaker John Boehner himself said, many Republicans literally hoped for enough “chaos,” believing that a disaster after Aug.2 could lead to a balanced budget amendment. 

Putting aside S&P's problems with arithmetic and the role they it played in the financial crisis with their positive ratings of mortgage-backed securities, the firm’s analysis that, as Jonathan Chait puts it, “the Republican Party poses a long-term threat to the stability of the U.S. financial system,” is entirely accurate.

What it does not mean however, is that there's "blame to go around." The blame rests with the Republican Party. While the GOP might be delighted at the prospect of the president getting blamed for a downgrade its reckless hostage-taking caused, the last thing the media should do is incentivize further recklessness by pretending this is a bipartisan problem. It isn’t. The Republican Party caused S&P to downgrade the U.S. debt rating, and now its trying to blame the downgrade on the president, whose biggest mistake was entertaining a negotiation over the debt ceiling to begin with. 

But make no mistake: The Republican Party caused the downgrade. The media should not pretend otherwise.

By Adam Serwer  |  10:25 AM ET, 08/08/2011

 
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