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“The Tea Party downgrade”

America’s first downgrade! It’s like getting a checkup at the dentist and having your first cavity. As you’ve probably heard, on Friday, Standard & Poor’s adjusted the long-term debt rating for the United States to AA+ — a notch below perfect.

The language of finance is really different from the language of politics, and politicians seem to stumble when talking about our country’s financial picture. Soundbites about sovereign creditworthiness do not come easily.

However, yesterday two Democrats simultaneously uttered a phrase that seems to be sticking.

On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Sen. John Kerry said:

“I believe this is, without question, the Tea Party downgrade. This is the Tea Party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered even the will of many Republicans in the United States Senate, who were prepared to do a bigger deal.”

Here’s the video:

At about the same time, former White House adviser David Axelrod said this on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:

“This is essentially a Tea Party downgrade. The Tea Party brought us to the brink of a default.”

Here’s the video:* * * *

I can’t find any earlier record of someone using this phrase that way, so let’s credit Kerry and Axelrod jointly with coining “Tea Party Downgrade.” Maybe the same advisor mentioned it to both of them before the shows.

Why is “Tea Party Downgrade” so catchy? Because it’s quick, simple and true.

Plenty of people think S&P was wrong to downgrade the U.S., but it would be hard for even Tea Partiers to argue that the downgrade isn’t a direct consequence of the hardball tactics used by newly elected Republicans in the House of Representatives. Republicans who identify with the Tea Party say they want to cut government spending, whatever it takes, to spare future generations the burdens of debt. (Conveniently, their proposals exclusively benefit rich people, a fact that should come in handy when it’s time to raise campaign money.) Tea Party Republicans in the House proved they are willing to disrupt the day-to-day function of government in order to advance their cause.

In its analysis explaining the downgrade, S&P said:

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. … In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government’s ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging.”

Notice the phrase “diverts attention.” It reads to me like the S&P analysts are saying to Congress: “You’re doing it wrong. To investors, growth is more important than debt policy, and those are two distinct topics.”

The gulf between the language of finance and the language of politics? Bang. There it is.

And as we chew on the Tea Party Downgrade and what it means, keep an eye on another new term. This one surfaced in blog comments in late July, and has been appearing as a hashtag on Twitter since August 4: Teacession.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under News & Journalism, Politics

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