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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Overcast
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Citizen Dave: A deficit of political will
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If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If the former mayor of a mid-size college town calls for more stimulus spending in a forest full of balanced-budget zealots, will anybody pay attention?

The answer to the first question will be debated forever; the answer to the second is likely a resounding no.

But let me try again anyway. People do listen to Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist who has written repeatedly about the need to prime the economic pump -- and the damage that spending cuts will do to the economy.

Krugman made that case again last week in a column titled "The Lesser Depression." And Sunday's Times carried a succinct analysis about how the recent deficits came about in the first case.

The answer is the Bush tax cuts and war spending. Discretionary domestic spending for everything from unemployment benefits to energy-efficiency programs counts for only about 15% of the federal budget, a figure that has been flat for a decade.

President Obama's stimulus package, which did so much good and probably kept the Lesser Depression from becoming a second Great Depression, counts for only about 40% of the revenues lost to the Bush tax cuts ($773 billion for the stimulus versus $1.8 trillion for the tax cuts).

And stimulus spending creates more jobs. That's because the Bush tax cuts favored the wealthy, who just save the money. But investments in needed projects like rebuilding roads and bridges, building a national high-speed rail network, building a smart grid, and weatherizing homes and businesses create good paying jobs.

Such investment creates ripple effects, as newly employed middle-class people spend on food, clothes, housing and education. Moreover, the improved infrastructure helps move people, goods and power while saving energy and keeping more of those dollars at home.

I know. I know. Our national and state leaders are obsessed with balancing the budget and keeping tax cuts at just the wrong moment. But you can't blame a guy for trying.

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