An $850B gamble? Credit agencies and debt talks

It's been another day in Washington, D.C., and there is still no deal in the debt ceiling crisis. As the clock continues to tick to that August 2nd deadline, no meetings are scheduled between the president and congressional leaders this weekend.

Still, top senators from both sides are said to be discussing modifications to a plan to raise the debt limit.

At the same time, the nation's credit rating could be threatened, even if a deal is passed.

CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson reports that credit rating agencies are putting the Treasury Department under the gun as they decide whether to strip the U.S. of its coveted triple-A credit status.

Obama addresses debt as Congress confers
The great debt debate: Point/counterpoint
Entitlement programs still on table in debt deal

On Thursday, Standard and Poor's agency threatened to consider the issue within the next 90 days, saying there's a 50 percent chance they could drop America's credit rating.

On Wednesday, Moody's Investors Service placed the U.S. bond rating "on review for possible downgrade".

"I am getting more and more worried about not raising the debt ceiling. This is approaching the unprecedented," said Mark Zandi.

Talks between credit rating agencies and the federal government are not necessarily unusual says the chief Washington correspondent for Bloomberg TV, Peter Cook.

"At the end of the day, it's their name on these ratings, their reputation. They have to make the judgment call that they believe is right," Cook says.

What worries the Treasury is any change in the gold-plated credit rating that would spike interest rates on U.S. debt. Just a half of a percentage point increase on the $14 trillion debt would cost taxpayers roughly $850 billion over the next decade.

Low-risk investors like those who run pension and retirement funds would be forced to dump U.S. bonds - a massive hit to America's reputation as a rock solid investment.

"They have to have something triple-A rated. If it's not triple a rated, they can't hold it. They have to sell those treasuries," Cook says.

This mounting pressure from the credit agencies is another reality check for Democrats and Republicans struggling to find common ground.

"If we go into next week and we haven't seen any action by the president and Congress, I think financial markets are going to grow increasingly un-restful," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.

President Obama gave Congressional leaders a deadline of Saturday to come up with deficit reduction plans that could actually pass. So far, there is no indication of an agreement.

  • Whit Johnson

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter