New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is hoping to jumpstart his expected presidential campaign by touching the so-called “third rail” of American politics: cutting Social Security benefits.
Christie, who is facing dismal 2016 poll numbers, made a major speech in New Hampshire on Tuesday about reforming what he repeatedly described as the “entitlement beast.” In his remarks, Christie embraced the potential unpopularity of the idea.
“I mean, there’s no political upside to this, right? OK, so why would I come here and say all these things if they weren’t true. I’d love to come here and just give you a happy time. Make you feel good,” Christie said. “The only reason I’m here to say this is because it’s an unavoidable truth.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Christie has a specific plan for cutting entitlement benefits. He wants to raise the retirement age to 69 and eliminate Social Security entirely for seniors making more than $US200,000. Seniors making more than $US80,000 would also see their benefits reduced.
Because seniors vote in such disproportionately high numbers, the proposal carries obvious political risks.
“I guess [Christie] needs to throw hail mary to get into the 2016 mix. But the ‘truth teller’ lane is a path to the political graveyard,” Politico reporter Ben White wrote on Twitter. “Find me people who really LOVE raising retirement age. I’ll wait here.”
However, Christie appears to think directly tackling Social Security and Medicare benefits will burnish his reputation for blunt talk. Christie is famous — or infamous, depending on whom you talk to — for confronting hecklers and other critics at town hall events, sometimes going as far as to tell them, “Sit down and shut up!” Indeed, Christie’s New Hampshire event at Saint Anselm College was billed as part of a “Tell it like it is” tour of the state.
“I will not pander. I will not flip-flop. And I’m not afraid to tell you the truth as I see it, whether you like it or not,” Christie promised in his speech. “We need to recognise that solving our biggest problems, like the growth of entitlements, can be done but only with real leadership that tells people the truth. We need to tell the truth to the very people that some of us aspire to lead.”
In an interview with Yahoo News the day before, Christie offered a preemptive defence of his proposal. He also insisted the plan was not the kickoff for his 2016 presidential campaign, despite his speech’s location in the early primary state.
“New Hampshire’s local. It’s relatively close. And also it’s a place where people are going to discuss important national issues,” he said. “I won’t decide until May or June of this year. But either way this is an issue that needs to be discussed.”
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