Last Friday evening, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+. As we and other conservatives warned, the spending reductions in the deal negotiated by President Obama to raise the debt ceiling were inadequate, and S&P reacted as we predicted but sooner. Neither Moody’s nor Fitch, two other rating agencies, have downgraded federal debt yet, but they are not providing much rosier outlooks.
Decades of over-spending and over-borrowing by the federal government have damaged America’s creditworthiness. Congress after Congress, President after President, the federal government spent every penny it took in—and borrowed over $14 trillion on top of that—to try to keep happy the voters to whom the government made promises it could not afford. The government kept shifting the burden of paying the bills forward onto future generations.
Well, the future has arrived, and it is bleak. Our economy is weak, millions of Americans are out of work, and America is so deep in debt that we have lost our good credit rating. Our nation needs to drive federal spending, including our ever-growing entitlement programs, down toward a balanced budget while maintaining our ability to protect America and without raising taxes. That is the sound path forward to a stronger economy with smaller government and more real jobs.
The White House’s first reaction to this news was to blame S&P itself, claiming that their math was wrong as spokesmen pointed out S&P’s past rating failures. Correcting the math didn’t correct the problem, however, and so S&P went ahead with its downgrade. Debating S&P’s credibility misses the more important point, which is there for all to see: Projected deficit spending properly raises questions about U.S. credit quality.
We cannot waste time shooting the messenger when the message itself is impossible to ignore: It’s the spending.
Unsustainable entitlement programs have been built up over many Congresses and Presidents. Elected officials from both parties over many decades helped push us closer to this point. But the last chance to start correcting the problem before damage to America’s credit occurred was during the recent debate over the debt limit.
Regrettably, President Obama and the Senate liberals refused to allow reforms to any entitlement programs and refused to make significant cuts in other federal spending unless they could raise taxes on America. Conservatives rightly resisted increasing taxes, which is a recipe for economic disaster during an economic slowdown. The resulting deal on the Budget Control Act brought little in the way of spending cuts and lots in the way of increased borrowing, and it was the last straw that cost America its top credit rating. President Obama and his liberal allies on Capitol Hill brought America’s credit down
The White House claims that its tax-hike centered “grand bargain” would have prevented a downgrade, yet they still have not told us what was in that “bargain.” Even as Senate Democrats are nearing three years without a budget, President Obama has offered to the American people rhetoric and class warfare, rather than solutions and responsible leadership.
Other liberals went out of their way this weekend to blame this downgrade on the Tea Party, with Senator John Kerry (D–MA) going as far as calling it the “Tea Party downgrade“ on NBC’s Meet the Press. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod echoed that coordinated spin on Face the Nation. Besides proclaiming for all to see that the liberals have no solutions themselves, this argument ignores the facts.
The Tea Party’s primary focus is our nation’s fiscal health. If it were not for the Tea Party’s positive influence, Congress would still be spending, taxing, and borrowing with little regard for the burden it is placing on future generations. Only months ago, President Obama was demanding a so-called “clean” debt limit increase that would allow him to keep on borrowing without any cuts to spending.
As our colleague J. D. Foster points out in his expert analysis of Friday’s downgrade, the debate over the debt limit was the substantive ideas of the conservatives versus empty political rhetoric of liberals:
In the course of negotiations on the debt ceiling, congressional Republicans tried tirelessly to get the President and Senate Democrats to get serious about cutting spending. All Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) could do was carp about symbolic tax hikes on the rich, oil companies, and their latest silly affection—corporate jets. To be clear, despite the perilous state of the nation’s finances, the President’s sole objective was ideological and symbolic: Even if Republicans had caved on tax hikes, which they wisely refused to do, the revenue gains would have been inconsequential compared to the spending cuts that are necessary. The President played politics while the nation’s credit rating was set to burn, and now it has.
President Obama, congressional liberals, and their allies believe that if we remain silent on our fiscal future, then markets and credit agencies will not notice our perilous future. Thus we heard from liberal pundits and politicians who called the debt debate a “manufactured crisis”—as if everything would be fine with more blank checks. The problem of federal over-borrowing and over-spending was and is real, as the credit downgrade and market reactions reflect. Congress and the President must fix the problem and fix it now.
Liberals this week will try to equate revenue increases with tax hikes. But that is simply not factual. Government revenues increase when we have greater economic growth and more taxpayers in the workforce. That economic growth is impossible with job-killing tax hikes and increased regulation. Raising taxes on taxpayers earning $250,000 or more hits entrepreneurs, small business owners, and investors, thus slowing economic growth still further.
In the next 10 years, once the economy recovers, revenue will rapidly approach and will likely surpass its historical average of 18.5 percent of GDP, while spending is projected to shoot past its historical average of 20.3 percent to 26.4 percent of GDP. Government spending will have increased by 22 percent just on President Obama’s watch.
Yet some liberals were still calling for more debt and deficits this weekend in the name of new “stimulus.” On Friday evening, Obama’s former economic advisor Christina Romer said the first failed stimulus she helped design should have been bigger and argued for a new and larger stimulus saying: “What I want is more now.”
That is, more of what President Obama has given us in the past—fruitless new spending programs. This would give us a bigger problem, not a solution. With America and the world in the grips of an economic slowdown, we need action to create economic growth and jobs and restore America’s credit. We do not need more government.
In today’s global economy, however, the U.S. credit rating downgrade may prove catastrophic. Prior to the credit rating downgrade, Europe was already teetering on the brink. Last week European stock exchanges plunged 10 percent, their worst weekly losses since November 2008. The long-building government debt crisis in Europe, which had been so unsuccessfully papered over just a few weeks ago by its leaders, is reaching the boiling point, threatening to wash over not just the worst offenders like Greece and Portugal but also some of the pillars of the European Union like Spain and Italy.
We cannot improve domestic or global economic conditions by becoming more like Europe. America can do better by adopting better ideas.
Heritage has offered its fiscal plan, “Saving the American Dream,” which would balance the budget in 10 years and lower our debt-to-GDP ratio to 30 percent (from the 100 percent it reached last week). It would accomplish this through responsible reform of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax code.
A number of sound incremental reforms can garner strong bipartisan support and can substantially improve these program’s sustainability and the nation’s finances. The President must lead his party to join hands with Republicans in the joint select committee to embrace these reforms and be ready to enact them, saving far more than $1.2 trillion and far sooner than November 23. The objective for the nation, the President, and the joint select committee is clear: drive down spending—including and especially on entitlement programs—toward a balanced budget while protecting America and without raising taxes. Properly done, this would lead to economic growth, more jobs, less government, and a restoration of the nation’s credit rating. It can be done.