In 2011, the United States emerged from a damaging budget battle with a downgrade of its pristine triple-A rating for the first time in history. In 2013, it could be dealt even a bigger blow.
The battle over avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff" is the first of a likely series of partisan confrontations in Washington in the coming year that, if not resolved, could cause more downgrades of the U.S. credit rating.
"The rating is in the hands of policymakers," said John Chambers, chairman of Standard & Poor's sovereign rating committee, the agency that downgraded the United States in August 2011.
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