A pox on one house

In an apparent attempt at self-parody, Mark Halperin said yesterday “there is blame to go around” on the downgrade announcement, and rejected any suggestion that Republicans deserve “all the blame.”

This is, I assume, what most of the political establishment will say. Indeed, it’s apparently all most outlets are capable of saying, as evidenced by the recent coverage of the debt-ceiling fight, in which “both sides” were consistently blamed, reality notwithstanding.

But for all the complaining I do about this, it’s only fair to note when someone gets this right. National Journal‘s Edmund Andrews, for example, had a good piece yesterday that specifically rejected the notion that the downgrade is “a pox-on-both-your-houses curse at the intransigence of both Republicans and Democrats.”

The big new element on Friday was an official outside recognition that U.S. creditworthiness is being undermined by a new factor: political insanity. S&P didn’t base its downgrade on a change in the U.S. fiscal and economic outlook. It based it on the political game of chicken over the debt ceiling, a game that Republicans initiated and pushed to the limit, and on a growing gloom about the partisan deadlock. Part of S&P’s gloom, moreover, stemmed explicitly from what a new assessment of the GOP’s ability to block any and all tax increases.

S&P was remarkably blunt that its downgrade was mostly about heightened political risks: “The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed,” it said.

And who instigated this brinksmanship, refused to compromise, and delayed a resolution until literally the last day?

Putting aside, at least for now, whether S&P has the credibility to make such sweeping condemnations, it’s worth emphasizing the extent to which the agency pointed the finger at congressional Republicans. It not only directly attributed blame to the GOP hostage strategy of the past few months, it lamented the very idea of allowing “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default” to “become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” before complaining that “the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.”

Andrews added, “[I]t’s hard to read the S&P analysis as anything other than a blast at Republicans.”

I read it the same way, and can only assume Republicans trying to celebrate the analysis as a political gift either haven’t read it or are counting on the notion that you haven’t read it.