Given the record deficit and, what's worse, the projected growth of unsustainable federal debt, we welcome the serious talk now being heard in Washington about balanced budgets and spending restraint.

Given the record deficit and, what's worse, the projected growth of unsustainable federal debt, we welcome the serious talk now being heard in Washington about balanced budgets and spending restraint.


That doesn't mean Congress should stifle a fragile recovery by cutting federal spending too fast or too deeply. More layoffs do not make the economy stronger, and a double-dip recession will only make the budget deficit even bigger.


Nor should Congress make unwise or unproductive cuts just to prove a political point. It would be better to spend the time between now and the November elections encouraging honest discussion of the difficult choices that must be made once the economy is stabilized.


Productive discussions start by putting everything on the table. Entitlement reform must secure promised benefits, not just eliminate them. Tax cuts contribute to the deficit just as spending increases do. There must be no sacred cows. Britain's austerity program, for instance, calls for cutting defense spending by 10 to 15 percent. Any deficit hawks in Washington want to match that?


Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts hopes to be part of that discussion. "We need to stop the deficit spending and start offsetting the cost of worthy programs by cutting wasteful spending in other areas," Brown said Thursday. "This requires elected leaders to make tough choices."


But Brown's own choices are problematic. He voted last week against a bill that would extend $23 billion in previously promised aid to states, jeopardizing the jobs of an estimated 265,000 teachers. As a former selectman and state legislator, Brown knows well that the $680 million shortfall the lost aid will create in the state budget will force layoffs and deep cuts in services.


Yet Brown has also announced he'll support spending $2.9 billion on an alternative engine for the Pentagon's new Joint Strike Fighter. Defense Department officials have said they don't need the engine and don't want it. The White House has threatened to veto any bill that funds the engine. But this is Massachusetts pork - General Electric would build the engine in Lynn -  so Brown's predecessor, Sen. Ted Kennedy, his colleague, Sen. John Kerry, and all the Democrats in the House delegation have supported the contract.


The state's Democrats in Congress also support the money for state aid. Brown chooses between the two, arguing that the defense contract is a matter of saving jobs. Apparently saving the jobs of well-paid union machinists building a redundant engine nobody wants for a well-connected defense contractor is more important to Brown than saving the jobs of thousands of teachers who are critically important to the commonwealth's children.


Yes, tough choices must be made, but this is an easy choice, and Brown has chosen wrong.


The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News