New Jersey governor Chris Christie said today he believed President Obama was “missing an historic opportunity” “to do the big things” that will right the course of the country for the next generation.
“I look at what’s happening in Washington right now and I’m worried,” Christie told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, after an introduction from Henry Olsen that described him as “the most consequential governor of New Jersey in at least 100 years.” He said the president’s speech in Arizona had encouraged him that Obama had the momentum to deliver a State of the Union address that would tackle difficult issues. He even “feared as a Republican” that the president would use the speech to “cement reelection.”
“What I was looking for that night was for my president to stand up there and challenge me,” Christie said. Instead, Obama focused on “investments” (Christie used air quotes) like high-speed rail and electric cars, calling them “the big things” (a phrase, Christie noted, that he had used in his own State of the State speech two weeks prior).
“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics. That’s not the big things,” Christie said.
The big things, according to Christie, are entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He slammed the president for playing chicken with congressional Republicans on much-needed reforms, and challenged the notion that Social Security remains a “third rail” in American politics.
“We’re going to have to raise the retirement age,” Christie said. “Ho! I just said it, and I’m still standing here. I didn’t vaporize into the carpet.”
“The world has changed,” he said, and though leaders would face risks for taking on popular spending programs, they would also be “rewarded for courage,” pointing to his own improving popularity numbers as evidence.
But Christie also said that “unlike some others,” he did not want to see the president fail, and that he believes Obama has time to do the right thing. Nor did the governor spare Republicans. He called out, in particular, the GOP challengers from around the country he campaigned for last year.
Saying that he had staked his “reputation” on them, he warned them that it is “put-up-or-shut-up time.”
“If people who I campaigned for don’t stand up and do the right thing [on entitlements], the next time they’ll see me in their district is with my arm around their primary opponent.”#more#
He also offered implicit support for the Republican plan to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $100 billion this year. Drawing from his own experience cutting salutary but expensive programs in New Jersey, he said the focus in Washington should be on what’s “necessary,” not what’s desirable “in the abstract.”
“You’ll have folks tell you that every bit of federal spending is laudatory and necessary. It’s not.”
Christie had some advice for reformers in Washington and across the country on how to tackle obstruction. Relating the story of his own epic budget battle with New Jersey’s Democratic legislature, Christie contrasted his reaction to the threat of a government shutdown with that of his predecessor, Jon Corzine. Corzine, a Democrat, had shown reporters a cot in the governor’s office, on which he intended to sleep until the crisis over (how much to raise) the state sales tax was resolved.
When Democrats threatened Christie with a government shutdown if he vetoed an income-tax hike they favored, Christie said, he told them: “Take a look at me, you think I’m sleeping on a cot?”
“If you want to shut down the government, that’s fine,” Christie reportedly told Democratic leaders in the legislature. “I’m gonna get in those black SUVs, go to the governor’s residence, go upstairs, open a beer, order a pizza, and watch the Mets.” Christie’s hard-line tactics worked, and the state’s budget — sans the tax hike — was passed two days early.
He offered praise for his counterpart across the Hudson River, newly elected New York governor Andrew Cuomo, saying that the similar paths taken by a Republican in a blue state and “the son of a liberal icon” prove “that these problems and issues are not partisan.” “For God’s sake, even Jerry Brown” is talking about tackling public-sector compensation, Christie said.
After his speech, largely delivered off-the-cuff, Christie took questions from the audience. The very first was the umpteenth iteration of “will you run in 2012.” Christie joked that he had already threatened to commit suicide to prove he wasn’t interested in running, and that now he might actually have to follow through.
“I’m not stupid, I see the opportunity,” Christie added, but said seeing opening is not a sufficient reason to run.
He also answered a question about Obamacare, clarifying that his state hadn’t joined a Florida lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act for “fiscal” not “philosophical” reasons. “I don’t need to be hiring lawyers,” Christie said, to become just one of many states already testing the bill’s constitutionality. He also called for the Supreme Court to give Obamacare expedited review.