- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The blame game on Capitol Hill commenced immediately after Standard & Poor’s unexpected downgrade of its U.S. credit rating late last week.

Republicans pinned the move on Democrats “spend and tax” ways. Democrats said S&P was reacting to the conservative tea party movement’s intransigence in the debt-limit debate.

But tea party backers brushed off the criticism and unapologetically defended their tactics, saying the country’s economic troubles would be even worse without their influence on Capitol Hill.

“For them to blame this on the tea party movement is like blaming the firefighters for the fire. It’s absurd,” said Amy Kremer, chairman of Tea Party Express. “If it were not for the tea party movement, Washington would’ve already gone and spent more.”

S&P on Friday dropped the U.S. credit rating from “AAA” to “AA+,” questioning the ability of leaders in Washington to seriously deal with the nation’s debt crisis.

Tea party critics interpret the rating agency’s explanation as proof the downgrade was the result of the movement’s unwillingness to compromise and refusal to accept tax increases as part of a “balanced” approach to lower the nation’s debt.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and White House senior adviser David Axelrod, both characterized S&P’s action as the “tea party downgrade.”

And Vice President Joseph R. Biden widely was reported as telling Democratic colleagues in a closed-door meeting that tea party supporters were “acting like terrorists” during the debt-limit debate.

Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said it was “radically disingenuous” to infer the downgrade had anything to do with the tea party. Instead, he pointed to S&P’s call for deeper federal spending cuts, a move he said Democrats have stubbornly resisted.

“John Kerry and his ilk are personally responsible for this downgrade,” he said. “It had to do with [government’s] inability to deal with our structural problems.”

Mr. Meckler added the attacks on the tea party show just how out-of-touch Democrats are with mainstream Americans, calling it a “monarchical attitude.”

“I have never seen politicians openly and directly attack a very large swath of the American public. It’s unprecedented,” he said.

Who is truly to blame for the country’s credit-rating downgrade — which was followed by plummeting stock prices this week — is difficult to gauge, as recent polls produced varying results.

“I don’t know if there’s anything that could happen that could change people’s minds” about the tea party, said independent pollster John Zogby. “If you’re an ardent tea party supporter, that’s ideological now, it’s not just a sign of anger and frustration.”

Results of a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released Monday showed 29 percent of likely voters identified the tea party as “economic terrorists,” while 55 percent said they weren’t. Sixteen percent of poll respondents said they were undecided.

Respondents to the Rasmussen poll largely were divided along party lines. Fifty-three percent of Democrats viewed tea party members as “terrorists” in the survey, while 74 percent of Republicans and 57 of voters not affiliated with either major party disagreed.

But results of an Ipsos/Reuters survey released Wednesday found that 42 percent of Americans held a negative opinion of the tea party movement after the debt limit deal was reached, with 49 percent saying they had a negative view of Republicans.

In comparison, 40 percent of those polled viewed Democrats negatively.

The fundraising arms of both House Republicans and Democrats also have used the credit downgrade to stir support, with each party accusing the other of causing the nation’s economic troubles.

“Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating because they have not seen adequate deficit reduction, which Washington Democrats have been fighting against in order to preserve their failed big-government policies,” said the National Republican Congressional Committee in press releases targeting Democrats it views as vulnerable in the 2012 congressional elections.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement Tuesday blaming the S&P downgrade on “roadblock Republicans — a term many perceive as code for tea party-backed GOP lawmakers.

“The indisputable fact is that until this group of Roadblock Republicans forced [House Speaker John A.] Boehner to walk away from a deal, America never came to the brink of a default, and we never experienced a downgrade,” Steve Israel said.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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