McConnell tries, fails to impress S&P

Over the last couple of months, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems to have had a kind of preoccupation with ratings agencies. In late June, for example, as his hostage strategy was intensifying, McConnell said policymakers should focus on trying to “impress Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s and the rating agencies.” A month earlier, he’d said nearly the same thing.

It was, at the time, an incredibly odd thing to say. The rating agencies were the ones urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling and strike an agreement with Democrats — advice McConnell and the GOP were deliberately ignoring.

The disconnect is even more striking now in light of the S&P downgrade. As part of the agency’s rationale, S&P blamed McConnell’s strategy: “The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.” In other words, when U.S. policymakers are using the possibility of voluntary default as a political weapon, those policymakers make the nation fundamentally less stable and less trustworthy.

But as Greg Sargent explained yesterday, Mitch McConnell — the same person who’s repeatedly said federal officials should try to “impress” S&P — believes the exact opposite. The Senate Minority Leader, just this week, said the full faith and credit of the United States is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” and he fully intends to use the debt ceiling again in the future as, in the S&P’s words, a “bargaining chip in the debate over fiscal policy.”

In other words, McConnell prioritized “impressing” S&P, and then went to unprecedented lengths to convince the agency that the nation’s fiscal health is unsound. Greg concluded:

[T]he leader of Senate Republicans continues to claim that the use of the threat of default to leverage policy ends is a good thing that should be employed again in the future. Even if you agree with McConnell’s assessment — as I’m sure many conservatives do — it’s still a matter of fact that the embrace of the debt ceiling as a weapon for policy ends is a primary reason S & P downgraded the U.S. credit rating. That seems like a rather important part of the story, wouldn’t you say? Will someone ask McConnell whether he stands by his claims in light of the S & P report?

Those strike me as good questions.