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Lessons in partisanship

February 29, 2012: 10:46 AM ET

Econ team on the prowl.

Noam Scheiber, a senior editor at The New Republic, has a new book out about the Obama economic team.

Called "The Escape Artists," the book is long at 351 pages, but opens with a description of a meeting held at the Treasury Department in April, 2011 that was attended by Sec. Tim Geithner and analysts from credit rating agency Standard & Poor's.

Scheiber writes that in this meeting, held months before S&P's downgrade of the United States, David Beers, global head of sovereign ratings for the agency, warned that political infighting would likely prevent meaningful debt reduction, and possibly lead to a downgrade.

Geithner balked at this analysis, essentially suggesting to Beers that he should stick to the wonky businesses of credit ratings, and leave the political analysis to the administration.

Apparently the meeting ended with the parties at loggerheads -- and with Beers insisting that a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction was unlikely.

"Beers wasn't biting. Perhaps it was because he didn't work in Washington. Perhaps it was that his grasp of congressional budgeting was weak. Or that his knowledge of public opinion was crude. Whatever the case, he couldn't suppress his disbelief that a major deficit deal would be forthcoming. 'We think the differences are too big,' he said. 'You won't be able to do it.' "

Of course, Beers was right. No deal was reached.

And when S&P finally pulled the trigger in August, it cited Washington's partisan disease as reason for its pessimistic outlook.

"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed," the agency said.

Fast forward six months and the atmosphere in Washington is no less caustic. Just today, Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the upper chamber, announced that she has no plans to run for reelection.

Her reason? Bitter partisanship.

"I do find it frustrating ... that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.

"What I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail."

So, lesson learned? Nope.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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