The national debt is a serious problem, but there are smart ways and dumb ways to deal with it, and imposing austerity during a recession is one of the dumb ones.

Stimulus spending is the government’s most potent recession-fighting weapon. Every administration facing an economic downturn has spent its way out of it, even Ronald Reagans.

Reagan took office in the middle of a relatively mild recession. He tried austerity measures, but they made it worse, so he changed course and started pumping money into the economy. That’s when the recovery began.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, in 1983 Reagan’s spending level was 23.5 percent of GDP, not very different from Obama’s 2009 peak of 25.2 percent — and Reagan didn’t inherit two wars, anything like the Crash of 2008, nor the structural debt that Obama did.

While no one’s happy with the current rate of job growth, Obama’s stimulus did prevent the economy from tumbling into a wage-price-unemployment death spiral, and there’s good reason to believe that another stimulus package would nudge the economy forward.

The biggest obstacle to growth is a lack of demand, and the government is uniquely positioned to provide it. As for austerity, the time for it is when the economy’s healthy, not sick.

One other thing: There’s no way to reduce the debt without raising taxes.

Die-hard supply-siders argue that tax cuts more than pay for themselves by engendering growth, but it’s a discredited theory, as even some of its architects (such as Bruce Bartlett) acknowledge.

We Republicans rail against tax-and-spend Democrats, but at least the Dems understand the connection between spending and taxing, something many of us in the GOP don’t seem to get.

Keith Vallencourt, Gardiner

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