The money quote
S&P’s assessment is only remotely serious if you assume that this particular Congress, with its huge contingent of crazy Tea Partiers, is going to serve in perpetuity. But this Congress isn’t going to serve in perpetuity — there are elections next year, and many of the Tea Party freshmen are likely to lose.
They won in 2010 because it was a “wave election” in the middle of a very severe economic slump. But 2012 is a presidential election cycle with an incumbent Democratic president. A lot of these Tea Partiers who won in traditionally Democratic districts (and swing districts) are going to lose. In fact, it’s probably even odds that the Dems take back the House.
The simple fact is that the Tea Partiers are almost certainly at the height of their power in this Congress. And no, the debt ceiling debate doesn’t reflect some sort of secular change in US policymaking — the next time there’s a Republican president, House Republicans will be all about raising the debt ceiling, and Democrats won’t engage in the same kind of political brinksmanship. You’d have to be stunningly naïve not to believe this.
There have also been plenty of political de-escalations over the years — Republicans didn’t shut down the government every year after 1995, for instance. After Tom DeLay won the Medicare Part D vote by holding the vote open for 3 hours, everyone claimed that this would be the new normal on all controversial votes. Didn’t happen. There are plenty of one-off political confrontations. Simply assuming that every political confrontation represents a secular change in US politics and policymaking is ridiculous.
Points all well taken. I’ll have to think this through more but off the cuff I will say the shock factor in seeing what went down with the debt ceiling debate was so intense that it definitely moved the needle on my perception of US creditworthiness.
Seeing that this sort of thing could happen and then hearing Mitch McConnell proclaim that he intends for it to be the new normal is deeply disconcerting.
Perhaps, when heads cool we will look back and see that there never really was a chance at default and that everything was under control despite the theatrics. At this point, however, I don’t see it.