Fitch Downgrades US Credit Rating

Agency cites mounting debt, political divisions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 1, 2023 5:55 PM CDT
Fitch Downgrades US Credit Rating
Signage for Fitch Ratings in New York.   (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)

Fitch Ratings has downgraded the United States government's credit rating, citing rising debt at the federal, state, and local levels and a "steady deterioration in standards of governance" over the past two decades. The rating was cut Tuesday one notch to AA+ from AAA, the highest possible rating. The new rating is still well into investment grade. The decision illustrates one way that growing political polarization and repeated Washington standoffs over spending and taxes could end up costing US taxpayers, the AP reports.

In 2011, the ratings agency Standard & Poor's stripped the US of its prize AAA rating and also pointed to partisan divisions that made it difficult for the world's biggest economy to control spending or raise taxes enough to reduce its debt. Reduced credit ratings over time could raise borrowing costs for the US government. The Government Accountability Office, in a 2012 report, estimated that the 2011 budget standoff raised Treasury's borrowing costs by $1.3 billion that year. At the same time, the size of the US economy and historic stability of the US government has kept its borrowing costs low, even after the Standard & Poor's downgrade.

Fitch cited the worsening political divisions around spending and tax policy as a key reason for its decision. It said US governance has declined relative to other highly rated countries and it noted "repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions." Another factor in Fitch's decision is that it expects the US economy to tumble into a "mild recession" in the final three months of this year and early next year. Economists at the Federal Reserve made a similar forecast this spring but then reversed it in July and said growth would slow but a recession would likely be avoided. "I strongly disagree with Fitch Ratings' decision," said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a statement. "The change ... announced today is arbitrary and based on outdated data."

(More Fitch Ratings stories.)

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