Shooting the messenger

Shooting the messenger

August 11th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Throughout history, there has been an inclination to dislike a person who brings bad news. In extreme cases, that may have led literally to shooting the messenger. But when the message needs to be heard, it is wrong to attack those who deliver it.

So it is disturbing to learn that Senate Democrats may be considering an investigation of the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, after S&P recently lowered the United States' credit rating from the top level, AAA, to AA+. The downgrade angered President Barack Obama and many Democrats in Congress.

In delivering the bad news, Standard & Poor's cited the failure of Congress and the president to deal aggressively with our catastrophic debt. S&P had urged lawmakers to reduce deficits by at least $4 trillion over 10 years, but Congress managed only a little over half that level of deficit reduction in the recent deal to increase the debt limit.

It is understandable that the downgrade of the United States' credit rating is frustrating and embarrassing to Obama and Democrats in Congress. The downgrade occurred on this president's watch, after all, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for most of the past four and a half years. They obviously do not want to be held accountable for the breakneck spending that contributed to the first-ever U.S. credit downgrade by a major rating agency.

But even if not all the fault for the downgrade and our nation's economic troubles rests with Democrats -- and it doesn't -- they are wrong to attack the credit rating agency, which is simply responding to Washington's fiscal recklessness.

And the fact is, it is not only S&P that is worried about America's debt problem. The two other main rating agencies -- Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings -- said they, too, might lower the United States' credit rating unless there is serious effort to reduce debt. And a smaller but highly regarded agency -- Egan-Jones Ratings Co. -- had already downgraded U.S. bonds from AAA to AA even before S&P took action.

Surely the Obama administration and Senate Democrats do not believe there is a conspiracy among all these agencies to lower or at least consider lowering our country's credit rating without justification.

And yet the Senate Banking Committee is "gathering information" about S&P's lowering of the credit rating, The Associated Press reported. That might be innocent enough, but with the committee's chairman, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., almost simultaneously calling S&P "irresponsible" for reducing the rating, it looks like an attempt to intimidate S&P or any other agency that might reduce America's credit rating.

Meanwhile, the president has spoken dismissively of S&P, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said of the agency, "[T]hey've handled themselves very poorly ... ."

We disagree. The problem doesn't lie with the rating agencies. It lies with elected officials in Washington who still are not focused on the overriding need to slash our federal debt.

They should be zeroing in on that issue -- not shooting the messenger.