Chris Christie came to Washington, D.C. today to deliver a message: Tackle entitlement reform now.
The combative Republican New Jersey governor began his speech at the American Enterprise Institute by striking a blunt yet non-partisan tone, praising Democratic and Republican governors alike for working to restore "fiscal sanity" in their states. "These problems and issues are not partisan. They are obvious. And they are long overdue to be solved," Christie said. "So that’s why you see Andrew Cuomo, or even for God’s sake Jerry Brown in California, talking about reducing salaries of state workers by 8 to 10 percent."
For Christie, Democrats like Brown and Cuomo and GOP governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich served as a foil for President Obama and other unserious politicians in Washington. “I heard the president’s State of the Union speech … and he said America was about doing the big things,” said Christie. “He says the big things are high-speed rail. The big things are high-speed Internet access for 80 percent of America or something by some date. A million electric cars by some date.” With each sentence, Christie made Obama seem a little smaller.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics, not the big things," Christie continued, as Obama shrunk even more. "Because let me guarantee you something: If we don't fix the real big things there are going to be no electric cars on the road.... We’re not going to be able to care about the niceties of life—the investments that Washington wants to continue to make.”
Republicans in Washington fared only slightly better in Christie's estimation. He criticized them for not talking specfically about how they'd reform entitlements and said he'd take a wait-and-see approach to their committment to do so in their upcoming budget. He even went so far as to threaten to campaign against Republicans he had previously campaigned for, if they shirk their responsibility.
Christie then laid out some specifics on entitlement reform. “What's the truth? The truth that no one’s talking about?" he said. "Here’s the truth that nobody’s talking about: You’re gonna have to raise the retirement age for Social Security."
“Whoa ho! I just said it, and I'm still standing here," Christie exclaimed, as the audience laughed. "I did not vaporize."
“We have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it is gonna to bankrupt us," Christie continued. "Once again, lightning did not come through the window and strike me dead.
"And we have to fix Medicaid because it’s not only bankrupting the federal government, it’s bankrupting every state government.
"There you go. If we’re not honest about these things--on the state level about pension benefits and on the federal level about Social Security, Medicare, and Mediciad--we are on the path to ruin."
In substance, Christie's speech provided a stark contrast with Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday. On the Senate side, leaders Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Patty Murray held a press conference on the budget. They railed against "extreme" GOP budget cuts and not once was Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid mentioned. Meanwhile, House Democrats denounced GOP cuts to NPR and PBS with the aid of a person dressed as Arthur the Aardvaark from the PBS children's show.
In style, Christie's performance provided the starkest of contrasts with the likely lackluster GOP presidential field. Watching Christie's delivery--serious on the issues yet at times personally irreverent--it seemed as though he could take the GOP nomination in a walk.
But during the question-and-answer session, Christie again tried quash any notion that he might run for president, despite calls for him to enter the race.
“Listen ... I said what do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I’m not running?” Christie said. “Apparently I actually have to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running.”
“You have to believe in your heart and your soul and in your mind that you are ready, and I don’t believe that about myself right now. So that’s what I’ve said all along. And, you know, I can’t imagine that changing."
Of course, that denial wasn't quite Shermanesque. Just because Christie doesn't think he's ready "right now" doesn't mean he won't think he's ready in six months, especially if no serious and electable fiscal conservative catches fire in the primary.