Standard & Poor’s, the rating company that downgraded the debt of the United States to AA+ from AAA for the first time, now finds itself assailed by investors led by billionaire Warren Buffett for making a political decision that has more to do with Tea Party politics than the financial stability of the U.S.
S&P officials, shrugging off a $2 trillion calculation error, blamed “uncertainty” in the policymaking process on Aug. 5 when they cut the assessment of the U.S. government’s ability to pay its debt, citing Congress’s failure to agree on as much long-term deficit reduction as the credit-rating company wanted. Buffett, the world’s most successful investor, said S&P erred and the U.S. should be rated “quadruple-A.”
The New York-based subsidiary of McGraw Hill Cos., whose inflated grades of mortgage-backed investments -- paid for by the banks that created the toxic debt -- were blamed by Congressional investigators for fueling the financial crisis, rattled investors around the world and provided fodder for President Barack Obama’s rivals in the 2012 elections. U.S. equity futures and global stock markets tumbled, oil sank and gold rallied to a record.
“Clearly the ratings downgrade was a ‘political decision’ in the sense that the politics explained the timing of this, because the numbers have been irrefutable for a decade,” said Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. “It gives an enormous amount of ammunition to the Tea Party. They said the deal didn’t go far enough and they’ll say ‘see.’”
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