In case you hadn't noticed, Washington politicians are not winning any popularity contests lately. The entire world stands in unanimous stupefaction in response to the self-inflicted crisis that has played out on Capitol Hill over recent weeks.
Predictably, a 12th-hour deal will avert the immediate threat of sovereign default, but what has truly been accomplished by a measure that no one -- not even those lining up to vote for it -- seems to view as a salve for the core issues underlying the longer-term debt crisis?
The debt ceiling will now be raised to an eye-popping $16.4 trillion, while $917 billion in cuts from the coming decade of spending serve as a down payment on another $1.2 trillion that a new "super-committee" in Congress will endeavor to pursue later this year. A process that began with widespread expectations for a $4 trillion reduction in projected deficits has emerged with 50% smaller teeth, leading some reasonable onlookers to anticipate a downgrade of the USA's AAA credit rating.
The mother of all tongue-lashings
Even before the deal was signed into law, the measure became the whipping post for 1,000 lashes coming in from all directions. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seconded a colleague's characterization of the deal as a "Satan sandwich," and added that it comes with "Satan fries on the side."
A scathing Bloomberg editorial called the measure "an unholy and bipartisan mess" that is "almost wholly uninformed by the nation's actual economy." A public opinion poll conducted by CNN Monday estimates that 77% of Americans believe Congress and the president have acted like "spoiled children" rather than "responsible adults" in relation to the debt ceiling debacle.
Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, challenged the use of the word "cuts" to describe merely a reduction in projected future outlays, and offered the following comparison in a letter posted to the congressman's website:
This is akin to a family "saving" $100,000 in expenses by deciding not to buy a Lamborghini, and instead getting a fully loaded Mercedes, when really their budget dictates that they need to stick with their perfectly serviceable Honda. But this is the type of math Washington uses to mask the incriminating truth about their unrepentant plundering of the American people.
Monetary metals grasp the whip
Not all of the vitriolic responses to the debt deal came directly from human mouths. Even as President Obama addressed the nation to announce the deal, gold could be heard screaming from the rooftops that no meaningful portion of the structural imbalances facing the nation and its currency had been tackled by the measure.
Gold soared nearly 1.5% Tuesday to surpass $1,646 per ounce, while the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD ) notched a brand-new all-time high above $160 per share. Silver hitched a ride for a gain of nearly $1 on the session, which produced a 2.4% jump for the iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV ) .
Of course, the U.S. debt crisis is not the sole factor informing precious-metals prices. One could certainly speculate that a half-pint compromise on the debt ceiling and the specter of a potential U.S. downgrade combined to advance the investment world's gradual shift into a modest allocation to gold. One could simultaneously counter that the termination of Washington's circus brought other pressing issues, like Europe's mounting crisis, back into focus for global investors. Meanwhile, the revelation that South Korea's central bank added gold holdings valued at $1.24 billion to its foreign reserves during June and July may have impaired the resolve of gold and silver shorts.
What's more, recent economic indicators in the U.S. hardly inspire confidence in the momentum of economic recovery, and gold and silver form two of the growing destinations for capital each time investors seek to reduce risk exposure. That point is emphasized by the strong bounce in U.S. Treasuries that accompanied Tuesday's surge in precious metals. If a U.S. downgrade were truly the new major focal point of nervous capital allocators, then I believe we would have observed a different outcome from the 2.4% gain for the iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond Fund (NYSE: TLT ) .
Where do we go from here?
Although Europe's undeniably acute financial crisis may steal back the headlines for a bit now that the curtain has fallen on the debt ceiling sideshow, I believe the persistent threat of long-term dollar devaluation will soon return to share equal billing with Europe's deep woes among the factors impacting global capital flows. I envisioned a near-term retreat from gold and silver as a potential consequence of Washington's debt deal, but as the measure's teeth were filed down further, it now appears they were unable to pierce the metals' long-standing momentum. However, if the major stock indices continue to retreat even as gold and silver hold the upper hand, investors may wish to remain vigilant for relative bargains among the stocks of gold and silver miners.
Thanks to an equity market that suffers from a near-term bias, Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) remains priced right about where it was when I highlighted the company as a standout bargain during June. Similarly, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX ) has seen its P/E ratio inch even lower since that same value discussion in June, despite a very strong corresponding trajectory for gold and copper prices in the interim. I also offer this recent survey of my top 10 picks for gold and silver for attractive plays in the sector, which features powerful growth companies like AuRico Gold (NYSE: AUQ ) and Brigus Gold (AMEX: BRD ) . Once Fools make a little room for long-term gold or silver exposure within their investment portfolios, I think they'll find they suffer far less indignity at the hands of the "spoiled children" in Washington.