- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2020

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said Democrats should get “a lot more comfortable” owning the issue of deficits, as he looks to draw a contrast with his more liberal rivals in the closing stretch ahead of Iowa.

Mr. Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he’s being “careful” with what he’s promising on issues such as health care “to make sure that it’s paid for.”

He said that in his lifetime, Republican presidents have racked up budget deficits while Democrats have trimmed them.

“Republicans are the party of big deficits,” he said in an interview with the Sioux City Journal’s Editorial Board published Wednesday. “My party ought to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue.”

“Look at it right now — we got a trillion-dollar deficit under President Trump. You know, the reason I think my party hesitates to talk about [the deficit] is that we’re used to it being invoked as an excuse not to make investments in health care, infrastructure, other things that are important,” he said.

Racking up federal spending has become a popular bipartisan exercise on Capitol Hill, with both parties in recent years eager to work around fiscal guardrails President Obama and Congress agreed to a decade ago.

Mr. Buttigieg also said cutting benefits in Social Security isn’t necessarily the right way to go to try to shore up the program long-term.

“We’ve been, I think, fed a story that for example Social Security can’t survive financially unless we start cutting benefits,” he said. “Now, it’s true that we need to take some steps to shore it up, but it’s not true that the only place to look is cutting benefits.”

He suggested one avenue could be to lift the cap that limits how much income can be taxed for the program — an idea that many Democrats have proposed. For 2020, only income up to $137,700 is subject to the payroll tax that funds Social Security.

Budget analysts across the political spectrum say spending on such entitlement programs such as Medicare is the chief driver of a runaway national debt.

Mr. Buttigieg has portrayed the “Medicare for All” health plan being pushed by Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont as too costly and disruptive. Mr. Buttigieg and other candidates like former Vice President Joseph R. Biden have pushed for a public health insurance option that would compete with private plans.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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