A mathematical error discovered late Friday by Treasury Department officials threw into limbo, at least temporarily, plans by ratings firm Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the top-notch AAA credit rating the U.S. has held for 70 years, people familiar with the matter said. The wild back and forth between the Treasury Department and S&P Friday afternoon illustrated the dramatic stakes as the ratings firm moved to downgrade the debt.
S&P officials still had not decided how to proceed and could move forward with a downgrade despite the issues raised by the White House, the people familiar with the matter said. A decision could come later Friday. S&P officials notified the Treasury Department early Friday afternoon it was planning to downgrade the debt, a government official said, and the firm presented its report to the White House. S&P has previously warned such a downgrade might come if Washington didn’t move to comprehensively tackle its long-term fiscal woes.
After two hours of analysis, Treasury officials discovered that S&P officials had miscalculated future deficit projections by close to $2 trillion. It immediately notified the company of the mistakes. S&P officials later called administration officials back to say they agreed about the mistakes, though they didn’t say whether it would affect the rating. White House officials remained waiting Friday evening to see what the company would do.