Is I.O.U.S.A. Still AAA?

After yesterday’s major Social Security and Medicare announcement, today we have to ask (again): Can the U.S. hold onto its AAA credit rating?

“The U.S. government has had a triple-A credit rating since 1917,” answers former U.S. comptroller general and I.O.U.S.A. protagonist David Walker, “but it is unclear how long this will continue to be the case. In my view, either one of two developments could be enough to cause us to lose our top rating.

“First, while comprehensive health care reform is needed, it must not further harm our nation’s financial condition. Doing so would send a signal that fiscal prudence is being ignored in the drive to meet societal wants, further mortgaging the country’s future.

“Second, failure by the federal government to create a process that would enable tough spending, tax and budget control choices to be made after we turn the corner on the economy would send a signal that our political system is not up to the task of addressing the large, known and growing structural imbalances confronting us.”

Of course, we must note that the whole credit rating biz is… well… corrupt. The agencies that are responsible for dishing out sovereign credit ratings (S&P, Fitch and Moody’s) are the same ones that left us all out to dry in 2007. (Of course, mortgage-backed securities get a AAA… housing prices never fall!) Rest assured, if Wall Street can buy its way into AAA, Uncle Sam surely can too.

But even Moody’s is starting to hedge their bets. They recently created three subdivisions within their AAA rating: resistant, resilient and vulnerable… a corporate way of saying the good, the bad and the ugly. While the U.S. isn’t in the worst of the bunch, it’s certainly not the best.


Not the best time to be Ireland or Spain, eh? S&P has already downgraded both nations, and just this morning Spain unveiled its worst recession in over 40 years. GDP shrank 1.8% there in the first quarter, after a 1% drop in the last three months of 2008. From a year earlier, GDP is down 2.9%, the worst annual contraction since at least 1970, when Spain’s National Statistics Institute started keeping track.

Since we started today’s issue with a tough question, how about another: How much further can Spain and Ireland fall (Greece too) before the euro enters crisis mode?