At a town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg drew criticism from progressives and economists when he told the audience he would prioritize reducing the deficit if he wins the presidency in November.
"It's not fashionable in progressive circles to talk too much about the debt," Buttigieg said. "I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue."
In embracing the frequent Republican talking point, Buttigieg was "not-so-subtly letting his billionaire donors know he'll cut Social Security and Medicaid," tweeted actor Rob Delaney, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Medicare for All proponent.
Republicans frequently portray large deficits as a Democratic phenomenon and blame the party for spending too much taxpayer money on social welfare programs, but as Sahil Kapur of NBC News pointed out, the national debt has risen under Republican presidents who cut taxes for corporations and raised military spending, while it fell under the two most recent Democratic presidents.
"It's 'not fashionable in progressive circles' because progressives are rejecting the bogus arguments about debt and deficits that have been used to undermine the progressive agenda for decades," Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and adviser to Sanders, told NBC.
On social media, other critics accused Buttigieg of "economic illiteracy" and of attempting to "curry favor with wealthy Wall Street types."
Buttigieg is the austerity candidate https://t.co/5Fwf1sR9HH
— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) February 9, 2020
This is substantively disqualifying and politically insulting to Democrats—and any left of center person. And, as Buttigieg is not a stupid person, it seems utterly cynical too, but not “smart cynical” (FDR was cynical about the CIO) but *dumb* cynical! https://t.co/RrJTprwSa5
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— Richard Yeselson (@yeselson) February 9, 2020
I honestly can’t think of a worse platform for Democrats to run on.
It also betrays a deep economic illiteracy given how low interest rates are. https://t.co/Ki8mSreqOI
— Matt O'Brien (@ObsoleteDogma) February 9, 2020
Love how Buttigieg frames his billionaire donor suck up position on “deficits” (e.g. opening up space to gut Medicare and social security) as edgy truth telling https://t.co/nklHJFr4Jt
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) February 9, 2020
Give the Buttigieg campaign credit: They know exactly what the mega wealthy sociopaths who bankroll campaigns and report the news on TV want to hear https://t.co/hWEKHvQK8t
— Andrew Perez (@andrewperezdc) February 9, 2020
It would be great if a reporter would ask Buttigieg whether he is completely ignorant of the debates over deficit among progressives for the last dozen years or whether he is just saying this to curry favor with wealthy Wall Street types. https://t.co/izzneFdNpn
— Dean Baker (@DeanBaker13) February 9, 2020
"Concern for 'deficits' is a rightwing watchword," tweeted Adam Johnson of The Appeal. "It signals a candidate is willing to open up space for privatizing and gutting Medicare and Social Security."