Christie Reenters 2016 Fray With Entitlement Reform Pitch

Christie Reenters 2016 Fray With Entitlement Reform Pitch
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Chris Christie’s latest comeback might have started Tuesday in New Hampshire — at least, that’s what the New Jersey governor and his team hope.                                                                      

And they didn’t play it safe, either. At the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Christie unveiled an ambitious plan to reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to make the programs solvent in the long term and less costly to taxpayers and the federal government.

“Washington refuses to acknowledge that we have a crisis on our hands,” the two-term governor said. “We need to force them to acknowledge the crisis and fix it.”

Christie’s plan would transform Social Security into an insurance policy — scaling back payments to seniors earning more than $80,000 annually, and eliminating them entirely for individuals with salaries exceeding $200,000. Christie also proposed expanding means testing for Medicare and raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security, among other changes.

Christie is not the first potential Republican candidate to raise this issue in New Hampshire this cycle, even though entitlement reforms are widely thought to be a third rail of politics. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, presented entitlement reform as a cornerstone of his potential platform during a trip to  the Granite State last month. “We will blow America up ourselves” if the issue is not addressed, Graham said at the Politics and Eggs breakfast in Bedford, N.H.

Christie and his advisers, who drafted the proposal after consulting with members of Congress, scholars at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and other Republican policy experts, appear to understand the appeal such a no-nonsense message could carry in the early primary state, where the electorate is known for its independent thinking.

“You have all of these politicians who say we need to solve the debt, but won’t talk about entitlements,” said Steve Duprey, New Hampshire Republican national committeeman. “I can’t think of a better state to talk about entitlement reform than New Hampshire.”

On his swing through the state, Christie will also hold a town hall meeting Wednesday in Londonderry; meet with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas on Friday; and speak Friday at the New Hampshire GOP leadership summit in Nashua.

If this trip indeed marks the start of a climb in Christie’s political stock, it would be one of several so-called comebacks in the aftermath of the Bridgegate scandal that rocked his administration last year.

His return to the town hall circuit in New Jersey was last month hailed by The Weekly Standard as a “comeback tour.” “Chris Christie is back,” a New York Times Magazine profile proclaimed in November 2014. A July 2014 trip to New Hampshire had Politico asking if Christie was a “dead man walking or comeback kid?”

Yet the outspoken governor’s underlying message has remained consistent: that he would be a truth-telling candidate willing to champion unpopular but effective policy changes. Christie has labeled this latest swing through New Hampshire his “Tell It Like It Is” tour, perhaps hoping to lay down a marker as the stylistic heir to two-time New Hampshire primary winner John McCain.

“I will not pander. I will not flip-flop,” he said Tuesday. “And I'm not afraid to tell you the truth as I see it.”

There is a fine line between truth-telling and abrasiveness, however, and some Republicans and Christie allies worry he has crossed that line in the past, and perhaps passed a point of no return. Tellingly, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month showed that only 32 percent of Republicans could potentially see themselves backing Christie, while 57 percent said they could not.

But, in an interview with Yahoo published Tuesday, Christie said those numbers do not worry him: “Political campaigns are a dynamic thing, they’re not static. And people judge you based upon what they’ve seen of you before, which is a mixed bag for everybody, and what they’re going to see about you in the future.”

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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