Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Is Turning! Turning! Turning! To the Blue Dogs

The lyrics are from the Bible, the music was written by Pete Seeger, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was a huge hit for the Byrds in 1965.

At the time it was popular, the song was considered to be an anti-Vietnam War anthem. But it was really more about there being a proper time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to reap, a time to gain and a time to lose, etc.

Although neither the Bible nor the song says so, there is also an appropriate time to decrease as well as a time to increase the federal budget deficit. The former is not always right, and if you assume the latter is always wrong, you are not heeding what the good book says and not understanding the role the budget plays in the U.S. economy.

As last week’s reaction to the detailed version of the Obama administration’s fiscal 2010 proposal indicates, this concept — reducing the deficit isn’t always appropriate — hasn’t yet become part of the budget debate. In addition to the inevitable complaints about the White House’s proposed spending cuts by Representatives and Senators who have to demonstrate to their constituents that they’re on their side, much of the criticism was from those who said the president hadn’t proposed to cut spending by enough.

Left almost completely unsaid was whether this was the time for any deficit reductions at all.

Until recently, whether the deficit should be reduced each year wasn’t a question. Even if it didn’t always happen, reducing the deficit simply was assumed to be the correct fiscal policy and anyone who disagreed was called irresponsible. Since Gramm-Rudman-Hollings made deficit reduction the ultimate goal of the budget process in the 1980s, budget politics has also made reducing the deficit the assumed always-appropriate policy.

But the world in which the Obama 2010 budget was submitted is vastly different than what existed when Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was in effect. In fact, it has turned, turned, turned completely.

Unlike what was true earlier this decade, the economy is not growing and consumers and businesses are not spending. In addition, despite some public pronouncements to the contrary, there seems to be real limits on what can be accomplished at the moment with monetary policy.

That means that, unless you think doing nothing is an acceptable choice, using fiscal policy to heighten economic activity becomes the only viable option. Which means that, to paraphrase the song, now is the wrong season for the large spending cuts some were demanding last week.

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