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Fitch Ratings Inc. cautioned today (Wednesday) that it may downgrade the U.S. credit rating – currently AAA, the highest ranking – if Congress doesn't reach a fiscal cliff deal.
The ratings agency said if negotiations on both the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling extend into 2013, Fitch will review the credit rating which may lead "to a negative rating action."
"Failure to avoid the fiscal cliff…would exacerbate rather than diminish the uncertainty over fiscal policy, and tip the U.S. into an avoidable and unnecessary recession," Fitch wrote in its 2013 global outlook. "That could erode medium-term growth potential and financial stability. In such a scenario, there would be an increased likelihood that the U.S. would lose its AAA status."
Fitch's warning is not merely a threat, and it isn't the only rating downgrade facing the United States.
Moody's Corp. (NYSE: MCO), which also currently has a AAA rating in place and maintains a negative outlook, advised in September that it was prepared to strip the country of its stellar rating if lawmakers don't come up with a long-term debt reduction plan.
Standard & Poor's has been even less lenient.
It trimmed its U.S. credit rating one notch in 2011 to AA+, alluding to the political stalemates that thwarted an agreement on raising the debt ceiling. The downgrade, a first in U.S. history, was harshly criticized, and stunned Washington.
S&P lectured earlier this year that an additional downgrade was likely sans a debt deal.
Joining S&P in stripping the U.S. of its desirable credit rating was Egan Jones, a much smaller but still well-known rival among the big three credit rating agencies. This September, it slashed its rating to AA- from AA.
A U.S. credit rating downgrade is just one important consideration in the debt ceiling debate.