Are Democrats the Party of Fiscal Responsibility? A Debate

Are Democrats the Party of Fiscal Responsibility? A Debate

© Kacper Pempel / Reuters

Talking to CNBC on Tuesday about his concerns that Democrats are going too far left with policy proposals such as a job guarantee and single-payer health care, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz said that “the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations. The only way we're going to get out of that is we've got to grow the economy, in my view, 4 percent or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements.”

His comments sparked a lively debate on Twitter among some leading experts and journalists who work on fiscal issues, focused on the Democratic Party’s claims to “fiscal responsibility” and the implications of such a stance. Here are some highlights from the dozens of back-and-forth tweets:

* Marc Goldwein, Center for a Responsible Federal Budget: “Left Twitter: ‘Democrats are the real party of fiscal responsibility.’ Also Left Twitter: ‘Why is this prominent Democrat talking about fiscal responsibility? We don't like him now!’”

* David Leonhardt, New York Times: “Both are true. Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility, and they’ve understandably decided that it hasn’t served them so well. Voters don’t care. So Democrats seem to be pivoting now, for better and worse.”

* Mark Schmitt, New America: “Fiscal restraint hasn't had any political benefit for Dems, and led to huge policy disasters, esp. inability to respond adequately in 2009. Dems won't give it up entirely, but it's time to recognize higher values in managing the economy.”

* Matthew Yglesias, Vox: “It seems to me that if deficit reduction were a good idea then its positive impact would be felt immediately and it would also be good politics. The problem is that for the past ~20 years or so it hasn’t been a good idea.”

* Goldwein: “That’s either tongue and cheek or the worst argument against deficit reduction ever. Imagine if I made the same argument about carbon tax or even Obamacare.”

* Yglesias: “It’s true that the argument would be mistaken as applied to an environmental or public health issue, which is why I wouldn’t make it. But with regard to a macroeconomic management issue it’s correct, which is why I did.”

Click here for more of the thread, which if nothing else shows that conflicting ideas about debt and government spending will continue to play an important role in American, and Democratic, politics. As if on cue, a spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi confirmed Tuesday that, much to the consternation of some on the Left, Democrats would follow what The Hill called “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules” if they win back control of Congress this year, ensuring that the debate over fiscal issues will continue to simmer headed into the elections this fall  — and well beyond.