The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 13, 2013

Is the deficit losing its urgency?


"The politics have shifted. It was intentional," said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. "The president put these issues at the forefront of the campaign for the purpose of shifting the politics."

How much the dynamic has shifted will be tested in a series of battles over fiscal priorities in the weeks and months to come.

On March 1, a set of deep automatic spending cuts known as a sequester will begin to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

Obama is urging Congress to replace these cuts, at least temporarily, with a new debt-reduction package that includes more revenue from taxes.

Later next month, a stopgap funding measure that is keeping the government operating will also expire, setting off what promises to be another fight. And there will be yet another clash later this year on raising the government's borrowing limit.

Many Republicans are arguing in favor of letting the sequester hit — despite the likely short-term damage to the economy — and adopting an austere budget plan that would wipe deficits out entirely by 2023.

But Democrats say the economic impact of a sequester is a good argument for pulling back on the deficit-reduction throttle.

"We're saying we should deal with the deficit as part of our economic strategy, not political strategy," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee who is close to the White House. "We're not done with this, but we should be addressing this issue in the context of jobs."

Questions about the "right" amount of deficit reduction have been a hot topic in the policy world in recent weeks.

Liberal analysts, including economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, have long argued that the deficit is hardly an emergency — and that government borrowing and spending had, in fact, provided a necessary counterweight to the collapse of private spending during the recent recession.

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