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Washington Budget Bickering Could Hurt US Credit Rating Again

  • Jim Randle

FILE - The U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Experts at credit rating agencies are watching Washington's political squabbling over budgets and spending closely, and they might make another cut in the U.S. credit rating if the Republican-controlled White House, Senate and House cannot reach an agreement.

President Donald Trump has promised to build a massive wall along the southern U.S. border in a bid to stop illegal immigration. Trump has said he will press Congress hard to fund the controversial measure, even if it stalls action on other budget issues and forces the government to shut down.

Some of Trump's fellow Republicans who ran on promises to limit or cut government spending are reluctant to fund the measure, and most rival Democrats oppose the wall.

U.S. law provides for a "debt ceiling," meaning the Treasury cannot borrow more money unless Congress agrees to raise the limit. That limit was reached months ago, and the federal government will apparently run out of cash by the end of September or early October if nothing changes.

The political situation is made more complex by the fast-approaching end of the budget year and the need for Congress to agree on next year's spending priorities.

Congress and presidents have bickered over budgets in the past, and in 2011 a debt ceiling impasse prompted the Standard & Poor's agency to make the first downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

The Fitch agency Wednesday said failure to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner would prompt a review of the nation's credit rating. Fitch currently gives the United States its top rating.

Moody's experts Thursday wrote that they expected Washington politicians to work out their differences, but that failure to reach an agreement could prompt the government to shut down, disrupting the economy more and more if the impasse drags on.

Moody's noted that a previous government shutdown prompted lenders to demand higher interest rates, raising the cost of government by about $1.3 billion in just one year.

Moody's and other experts have urged Congress to remove the debt ceiling because it does not restrain spending but does add "to the noise" around the budget process.

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