Another credit downgrade coming with the debt ceiling fight?

The treasury department is currently engaging in extraordinary measures of moving money around to meet the government’s commitments.  Congressional Republicans are finalizing a list of requirements they will demand that the administration meets in order to ensure their cooperation.   However, bond rating agencies have already stated that another round of fights may trigger another credit downgrade of U.S. Treasuries.   Is another credit downgrade coming with the upcoming debt ceiling fight?

Counter arguments have been made by some U.S. politicians that not increasing the debt limit will not be as dire as predicted because Congress could authorize payment of principal and interest on existing U.S. debt, while not paying other obligations in other areas.   However, bond rating agencies such as Fitch has indicated that such a ploy may basically be considered a thinly veiled default and may well still trigger a review of the Government’s credit rating.   Their view is that this is nothing more than debt prioritization, which pays certain obligations but not others, and is just another term for default.

Politicians have already shown that they are apparantly willing to use the debt ceiling to score perceived short term political points on an issue that will be forgotten in a few weeks at the expense of the nation’s credit, rather than compromise, or at least make it a priority not to fight on such a critical issue.   The nation’s credit deserves far better than this from both parties.  It appears that the extreme wings in both parties are driving the debate to a head.

Another major danger in this type of fighting is that the debt limit has to be increased every few months, or roughly every year at the longest because it is only increased by a relatively small percentage on each occasion.  If the branches of Government would agree on a plan to raise the debt ceiling ongoing by an agreed set of circumstances, these credit downgrade threats would largely go away.

How a Government Credit downgrade affects services

There is currently little awareness, or interest,  if and how a Government credit downgrade affects all services that the Government can provide.

In both the short and long term, a Government credit downgrade has a significant affect on the services Government can offer to society, mainly in a reduction of those services.    One need only look at Greece to see the nightmarish affects of many downgrades in credit, to the point where Government issued bonds going into junk status.

When the Government suffers a down grade in it’s credit rating,  it may be foreced to offer a higher rate of interest on the securities it issues to attract capital investors.   Currently, the Government pays approximately 12% of the revenues it takes in to investors through the Government Treasury bonds it has issued.    This means that the Government is now using approximately $300 billion per year to pay interest owed.   The public receives no benefit from this money.   It is, in essence, completely wasted money.  If there is another credit downgrade, or several downgrades, it may force the Government to pay a higher rate of interest on the same Treasury bonds to attract the same investors.

If an extra 1% in interest is paid, this is very significant because it is likely to be a permanent increase rather than a temporary or fluctuating  increase.    In order for the interest payment on bonds to go down, the credit rating issued by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s would have to be upgraded.    Considering the Government’s large and consistent budget deficits, this scenario is unlikely, especially in the short term.    The extra 1% paid in  interest will represent approximately $10 billion dollars per year, each year, ongoing for those Treasuries issue in that 1 year.   If this is done each year, with a budget deficit of $1 trillion, this is approximately and extra $10 billion every year, on top of the previous year’s trillion.

So how does this affect or decrease services?

This is money that the Government cannot now use, that is previously did use, to fund any services or benefits, including Medicare, Social Security, Education, Military, Highway, unemployment, job training, or any other areas of the budget.   Every year that the Government says it has to reduce the benefits to Medicare and Social Security because of limited funds, those funds that are now being paid in interest could have been used to fund these programs, rather than cut them.    A future post will focus specifically on the dollar amounts per year.