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Rating falls, markets plunge, critics rage. But tea party isn't blinking.

Tea party lawmakers say the S&P's downgrade of the US credit rating and the markets' convulsive reaction on Monday is merely confirmation that they had been right all along.

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In a controversial move, chairman Jordan had lobbied outside business groups in July to pressure Republican lawmakers to oppose the “grand bargain” being negotiated between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio. The plan aimed to cut at least $4 trillion over 10 years – a level that would have met the mark set by the ratings agencies. But the negotiations included deficit cuts on the revenue side that were unacceptable to conservatives.

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Many tea party lawmakers said during negotiations that they would rather see the nation default on its debt, rather than fail to curb unsustainable deficits. In the absence of a grand bargain, Congress and the White House eventually agreed on $2.4 trillion in cuts only.

“The tea party had a shot at a big deal that avoided a downgrade, but rejected it because it included a tax increase, preferring to roil the markets,” says Stan Collender, a longtime federal budget analyst and partner at Qorvis Communications in Washington.

“S&P’s statement signals that the downgrade has nothing to do with America’s ability pay its debt,” he adds. “It’s all about the apparent unwillingness of the political system to deal with the problem. That only happened after the tea party got elected and held the debt ceiling hostage.”

Meanwhile, Monday’s S&P announcement that it is also downgrading home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only reaffirmed the tea partyers’ conviction. “The downgrades of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reflect their direct reliance on the US government,” said S&P in a statement. S&P also lowered ratings for 10 of 12 Federal Home Loan Banks.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, an early supporter of tea party candidates, say that S&P’s latest decision is not surprising. “It’s a reflection of their direct reliance on the US government, which has delivered the entities over $160 billion in endless bailouts,” he said in a statement on Monday. “Just last week, Fannie Mae requested an additional $5 billion taxpayer bailout.”

“The president should do what conservatives who opposed the original mortgage bailout called for years ago: break up the mortgage giants and privatize them. Forcing taxpayers to prop up these failed entities hasn’t solved the housing crisis; it has prolonged it,” he added.

Opposition to government bailouts was a rallying cry of the tea party movement in the 2010 election cycle. In late 2008, House Republicans initially voted down then-President Bush’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), but a 740-point drop in the stock market drove lawmakers to reconsider that vote and pass the bill.

Tea party lawmakers say they won’t be pressured by the markets to make a similar course change on the debt. It’s this willingness to take the nation to the brink of default – and beyond – that gave tea party so high a profile during debt talks. Critics say that stand shows no sign of shifting as Congress moves next month to the next phase of deficit reduction through a new joint congressional committee.


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