Associated Press
Larry Summers

Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary under President Clinton and economic adviser to President Obama, argued in an opinion piece in the Financial Times that the showdown in Washington over the budget and debt ceiling ignores the bigger issue of GDP growth facing the American economy.

"[T]here is a chance future historians will see today’s crisis as the turning point when American democracy was shown to be dysfunctional," wrote Summers. "The tragedy is compounded by the fact that most of the substance being debated in the current crisis is only tangentially relevant to the main challenges and opportunities facing the country."

Summers said that instead of obsessing about deficits, Washington politicians should be more concerned about long-term economic growth. "Projections that there is a major deficit problem are highly uncertain. And policies that indirectly address deficit issues by focusing on growth are sounder in economic terms and more plausible in political terms than the long-term budget deals much of the policy community is obsessed with."

"If even half the energy that has been devoted over the past five years to 'budget deals' were devoted instead to 'growth strategies,' we could enjoy sounder government finances and a restoration of the power of the American example," Summers concluded.

Summers is currently a professor at Harvard, and earlier this year he withdrew his name from consideration for chairman of the Federal Reserve. On Oct. 9, Obama nominated Janet Yellen to the position.

Matt Yglesias, who writes on financial issues at Slate, declared the op-ed piece a "truth bomb" on Twitter. But the question of whether debt is hindering economic growth is being hotly debated by economists, according to Matthew Phillips at Businessweek.

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"Some economists say that we’re losing a million jobs a year just because of the burden of our debt," Phillips quoted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, as saying.

Henry Blodgett at Business Insider said short-term debt shouldn't be a big concern, but the country will need to reduce entitlement spending or raise revenue in the long run. "We do NOT have a near-term debt or deficit problem that we need to cut spending (or raise taxes) immediately to address," he wrote. "We DO have a long-term debt and deficit problem that we need to address eventually."