A plaque is pictured at the entrance of the Fitch offices in downtown Milan January 24, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
Fitch Ratings warned that it would drop the top rating of the United States if the debt ceiling wasn't raised in a deal between the White House and reluctant Republicans.
"Fitch's warning comes as President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress jostle over a vote to raise the country's borrowing limit," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "And just as the credit-rating firms are closely observing the action in Washington, lawmakers there -- and investors around the world -- are keeping an eye on the analysts who hold the fate of the U.S.'s credit rating in their hands. A lower rating could raise the country's borrowing costs or at least signal to investors that its fiscal house isn't in top shape."
Fitch might still lower the country's rating even if lawmakers reach a debt ceiling deal, if that deal doesn't include measures to significantly lower the federal debt.
Analysts at Fitch say the after-the-last-minute New Year's deal over the fiscal cliff made them nervous, and they don't want to see another deal come down to the wire when the U.S. bumps up against the debt ceiling, likely sometime in the last two weeks of February.
"We thought it would go to the last minute, but we were somewhat nervous when it seemed to go beyond the last minute into the next day," said David Riley, head of Fitch's sovereign-rating team.
"If we have another one-minute to midnight deal, which we think is damaging to confidence and the recovery, and simply sets up another deadline for six months later, it's not something which from our perspective would be consistent with retaining the triple-A," Riley added.
"If we have a repeat of the August 2011 debt ceiling crisis we will place the U.S. rating under review. There will be a material risk of the U.S. rating coming down," he said.
Another credit rating agency, Standard and Poor's, already downgraded the country's triple-A rating back in August of 2011, during the first round of debt ceiling battles in Congress that resulted in the fiscal cliff and sequestration compromises now hanging over lawmakers' heads.
It was the first time the United States had ever had less than a top credit rating.