Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate for Illinois' U.S. Senate seat, gave a speech in Chicago today focusing on fiscal policy and the federal budget. According to a write-up of the address by Crain's columnist Greg Hinz, Giannoulias said that cutting the national debt "should be our No. 1 fiscal priority when we arise out of the current recession."
Note the timing contained in that statement. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently argued, it's not that government debt isn't a concern. Rather, Congress and the president should wait to prioritize the issue. A premature move toward fiscal austerity, before GDP rises and unemployment drops, could send the economy tumbling.
We heard similar notes from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin last week when he told the City Club of Chicago the federal government must consider "careful" spending cuts (he singled out defense and agriculture as two potential areas for cuts) after further debt-financing of unemployment aid, infrastructure projects, and education. The timing issue is worth keeping in mind as debates about the national debt, the last Bush Administration's tax cuts, and stimulus programs continue to dominate headlines.