When you read my last column, the United States enjoyed an AAA rating on its $14-trillion-plus federal debt, was anticipating a budget deficit in excess of $1 trillion for fiscal year 2011, and was reaching the debt ceiling on future borrowing. As you read this column, Congress and the administration have, after a debate charged with rhetoric aimed more at the next elections than addressing the difficult problems at hand, once again adopted a short-term interim solution to the deficit and debt-ceiling challenges. The resulting fear of continued political gridlock in achieving long-term solutions, in the face of the arrival of a day of reck- oning by the end of this year, caused Standard and Poor’s to do what conventional Washington wisdom had thought unthinkable—downgrade its AAA rating for the federal debt.
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