Fitch Ratings warns of U.S. credit downgrade if fiscal cliff proceeds

WASHINGTON — Fitch Ratings said that there would be "no fiscal honeymoon" for President Barack Obama, warning early Wednesday that the U.S. probably would lose its AAA credit rating if the White House and Congress don't address looming tax increases and spending cuts and the fast-approaching debt ceiling.

"The economic policy challenge facing the president is to put in place a credible deficit-reduction plan necessary to underpin economic recovery and confidence in the full faith and credit of the U.S.," said Fitch, one of the three major credit rating companies.

The expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and the start of automatic spending cuts to reduce the deficit — a combination known as the fiscal cliff — will take place Jan. 1. Most economists believe it would trigger another recession.

In addition, the government will hit its $16.4 trillion debt limit near the end of the year. Treasury officials said they can take steps to allow continued borrowing, but the nation would face a possible default early in 2013 if the limit isn't increased.

Obama and members of Congress have pledged to try to agree on a broad deficit-reduction plan to avoid the impact of the fiscal cliff, and such a deal most likely would include an increase in the debt limit.

But Tuesday's election sent mixed messages from the electorate. Obama was re-elected on a platform of higher taxes for wealthy Americans. Republicans retained the majority in the House, running on a pledge of no tax increases.

Fitch said failure to come to a bipartisan agreement endangered the nation's credit rating. After the bitter fight over raising the debt limit in the summer of 2011, Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. rating to AA+ from AAA.

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