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Even before financial markets had a chance to react, the blame game started over Standard and Poor's decision to lower the credit rating of the United States government from AAA status to AA-plus.
The Obama administration reacted to the downgrade with indignation, finding flaws in S&P's calculations and analysis. Democrats and Republicans began finger-pointing that was not limited to Washington.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine issued a statement blaming Obama for what he called a "Democrat downgrade."
"President Obama and Democrats' spending addiction has driven our national debt to historic proportions, maxed out our national credit card and has now led to the Democrat Downgrade of our country's AAA credit rating," he said.
PolitiFact has repeatedly checked statements in recent months about "maxing out the U.S. credit card," and found significant exaggeration. Although Democrats shoulder a fair amount of blame for the nation's fiscal woes, so do Republicans because they voted for tax cuts and additional spending that also contributed to the large deficits.
What is new in DeWine's statement is what attracted our attention: the label of "Democrat downgrade" on S&P's rating.
We asked the Ohio GOP how it backed up the claim, and it cited about two dozen sources.
One was a PolitiFact story that referred to Obama as "the undisputed debt king of the last five presidents." (Which, the story went on to say, "goes to show that statistics can be used -- and misused -- to bolster almost any argument.")
The other sources, mostly commentaries, fault Obama's leadership on the economy, tie Democrats to spending or speculate on the political damage to Obama and Democrats from the downgrade. One citation is a story from Politico saying that Obama "is now firmly part of the landscape that S&P trashed" -- after the story says he was "dragged by Hill Republicans into the endless fiscal and personal nightmare that was the debt ceiling debate."
We think the best way to determine what's in the S&P report is to read it. It's available to anyone online.
"We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S.," the report says, "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."
In other words -- though S&P says it "takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures" that would put the country's finances on more stable footing -- the firm looked for spending to be better contained and for revenues to increase. New revenues might have helped head off a downgrade, but "the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues," the report says.
S&P faults "the political brinksmanship of recent months" for making America's governance and policymaking "less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed."
The firm complains that the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default "have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy" and that "the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge."
In our reading -- and in the words of the very Politico story that the GOP cites as a source -- "S&P suggested that the Democrats are just as much a part of the problem as the Republicans."
We repeat: Just as much. Democrats and Republicans both. That means the one-sided label of "Democrat downgrade" has some element of truth -- but it ignores so much critical information that it gets a Truth-O-Meter rating of Mostly False.
Standard & Poor's, "Research Update: United States of America Long-Term Rating Lowered To 'AA+' On Political Risks And Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative," Aug. 5, 2011
New York Times, "S.& P. Downgrades Debt Rating of U.S. for the First Time," Aug. 5, 2011
The Hill, "Markets plummet as administration pushes back against S&P downgrade," Aug. 8, 2011
Ohio Republican Party, "Statement on Democrat Downgrade," Aug. 8, 2011
PolitiFact, "Cookie-cutter politics," June 1, 2011
PolitiFact, "Nancy Pelosi posts questionable chart on debt accumulation by Barack Obama, predecessors," May 19, 2011
Email from Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Maloney, "Democrat Downgrade," Aug. 9, 2011
Politico, "President Obama's bus trip could hit potholes," Aug. 7, 2011
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