News Release

“Austerity Pete”

In “The New Hampshire Democratic Primary in One Graph,” researchers Thomas Ferguson, Jie Chen and Paul Jorgensen at the Institute for New Economic Thinking find: “Lower income towns in New Hampshire voted heavily for Sanders; richer towns did the opposite.”

ALEXANDER SAMMON, asammon at prospect.org, @alex_sammon
Sammon is a staff writer at The American Prospect. He just wrote the piece “Austerity Pete,” which states: “Asked by an attendee at a Keene, New Hampshire, town hall to give his thoughts on ‘the deficit,’ Buttigieg articulated a willingness to embrace fiscal hawkery that’s been notably absent from the Democratic primary.

“’I think the time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable talking about the deficit,’ Buttigieg answered. ‘Because right now we got a president who comes from a party that used to talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, with a trillion-dollar deficit, and no plan in sight for what to do about it … This should concern progressives, who are not in the habit of talking or worrying too much about the debt.’ He then went on to claim that a ballooning deficit would in fact prevent investment in ‘safety net and health and infrastructure and education programs,’ intimating that deficit reduction would need to supersede the progressive policy agenda.

“That should alarm Democrats all over the political spectrum. Buttigieg’s sudden pivot to deficit-hawk politics is deeply misguided and evinces a profound misunderstanding of recent political and economic history. Virtually all of the party’s disparate factions understand that there simply isn’t a deficit problem worth obsessing over at this time, and making such noises only serves to restrict progressive ambitions. …

“The legitimacy of austerity politics seemed to have been driven out of the political arena with Paul Ryan, after he quickly capitulated and championed the deficit-exploding Trump tax bill. In fact, it’s hard to think of a school of political thought with less credibility and less popularity than deficit hawkery, which was openly forsaken by even its most fervid apostles in the Republican Party once it came up against an opportunity to deposit an extra buck of would-be tax revenue into the pockets of wealthy GOP donors. What’s become clear is that ‘fiscal responsibility’ is a tool only used when Democrats occupy the White House, to prevent popular programs from coming into being. …

“Could a pro-austerity agenda outflank Republicans in 2020? It certainly wouldn’t offend Mitch McConnell, who recently reiterated his long-standing ardor for cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, even suggesting he would set aside his undying opposition to bipartisanship to do it. …

“In a general election that should attack Trump for his heartlessness toward the neediest, Buttigieg would be in the awkward position of agreeing with the president on the need to ‘tighten our belts.'”