0

Washington falling down on the job

After the House and Senate finally broke an impasse this week and OK'd legislation aimed at (1) keeping the United States from defaulting on its obligations and (2) addressing the out-of-control rise of U.S. debt, we said we hoped that the deal that no one seemed to want went far enough to satisfy markets and creditors.

It didn't. The stock market continued to tank.

And late Friday evening, it got worse. Standard & Poor's, one of the major credit rating firms, did something that has never happened in the history of credit ratings.

It dropped the United States from the top rating of AAA to AA-plus.

"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," S&P officials said in an overview of their report. "More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

"Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics anytime soon."

To make matters worse -- and, yes, it can always get worse -- the agency said it was also issuing a negative outlook for the U.S. While that is not unlike the outlook many Americans have for their lawmakers and president at just this moment, in S&P's case it means the agency believes it may downgrade the nation's credit rating again within the next two years.

"We could lower the long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case," the agency said.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, a member of the Senate bipartisan Gang of Six who worked on a more disciplined debt reduction blueprint than the one that eked through Congress Tuesday, said Friday night that Washington had better take this seriously and act accordingly. Chambliss, who'll be in Fitzgerald next week with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, voted against the legislation Tuesday.

"This is a wake-up call for Washington to get serious about fixing our debt problem," Chambliss said. "Many of us have long argued that Congress must make the hard choices to address this issue immediately, and I can only hope this helps others in Washington and around the country understand our urgency. Substantial, meaningful reform that results in a pro-growth tax system, entitlement reforms and spending reductions must be implemented as soon as possible."

Indeed, this is a problem that has been handed off, ignored and otherwise shuffled to the side one too many times. It's time for Congress and the president to do their job and get America's financial house in order before the mortgage costs blow through the roof. America can't continue to pay 40 percent of its bills with a credit card.

It's time that the majority of American voters -- those of us who eschew both the far left and the far right -- took control of the direction in which America is heading. We should quit asking for good government and instead demand it. And if Congress and the White House don't want to do the right thing, then it's time we did some evicting of our own -- at the polling booth.