Democrats over the weekend were quick to pin the U.S. credit downgrade by Standard & Poor on the tea party, labeling it the "tea party downgrade." But the administration on Monday toed a softer line -- avoiding waging war against the caucus of conservative Republicans, but also not absolving them for their part in the contentious debt-ceiling debate.
When asked if the president agreed with other Democrats who have labeled S&P's decision the "tea party downgrade," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at a Monday briefing, "What it clearly was, was again, with no economic justification to it, as the Treasury secretary and others made clear, it was an assessment of our politics." When pressed, Carney said that the president did not blame the tea party, but said that there was brinkmanship in negotiations, and the debt-ceiling increase was irresponsibly used as a bargaining chip.
Speaking to the nation on Monday, Obama didn't mention the tea party's members of Congress who have been blamed by Democrats for the protracted spending debate that stalled the deal to raise the debt ceiling. But he did peg the lack of progress on deficit-reduction policy more broadly on the political gridlock in Washington, pointing to his talks with the House speaker.
"John Boehner and I came up with some good proposals when we came close to agreeing on a grand bargain," the president said in his afternoon address aimed at calming investors' fears amid market turmoil. "So it's not a lack of plans or policies that's the problem here. It's a lack of political will in Washington."
After Obama's address, Carney expanded on the president's remarks.
"As messy as the lead-up to compromise was, in the end sanity prevailed. The faction on Capitol Hill that seemed to revel in the prospect of default was, in the end, ignored and compromise was achieved," the press secretary said.
On Face the Nation on Sunday, Obama adviser David Axelrod called S&P's move "essentially a tea party downgrade." Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Democratic former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean both echoed the sentiment.
Finger-pointing at the tea party has been a refrain for Democrats in recent weeks: Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told a Nevada television station that "the tea party-driven House of Representatives” is attempting "to bring the government down." And Vice President Joe Biden reportedly called the tea party lawmakers "terrorists" in a conversation about the debt-ceiling debate.