Larry Summers says Americans need to start thinking more broadly about deficits.
Summers, a former Treasury Secretary and Obama economic adviser, criticized the assumption that deficits only apply to the national debt on MSNBC's Morning Joe Wednesday, saying instead that people should consider all cuts to all future investments as deficits.
"When we talk about getting ready for the future, when we talk about reducing the deficit, absolutely we need to focus on the deficit, but let's focus on all the deficits," Summers said. "Let's focus on the deficit represented when bridges are on the brink of collapse as well. And those investments pay off for the economy, and that means they ultimately pay off for the taxpayer."
"We're killing the next generation when we defer maintenance," he said. "We're killing the next generation when they only go to school for four days a week because that's all state governments can afford."
Summers comments come as the debate over the best way to fix the economy heats up, with some policymakers advocating slashing government services to balance the budget and others proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy and boost spending.
Cuts to tax revenue and aid from the federal government have pushed state and local governments to slash spending. Texas, for example, is laying off 49,000 teachers and cutting off financial aid for 43,000 college students, according to the Texas State Teachers Association.
Still, Summers' comments about the deficit weren't what caught most viewers' attention this morning. The interview made headlines after the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other outlets misinterpreted some of Summers' comments and reported that he had endorsed extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
Instead, Summers cautioned that now would be a bad time to suddenly "take the gasoline out of the tank." He also voiced support for making the wealthy "do their fair share" in paying taxes.