New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie was in Washington yesterday to deliver a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Billed as a major address on reform issues facing New Jersey and the nation, Christie was expected to lay out the themes to be reflected in his fiscal year 2012 budget, which he will unveil next week. Instead, Christie delivered a mostly extemporaneous address on the fiscal challenges facing the nation, his beliefs on leadership in troubled times, and a critique of the Obama administration’s recently released budget proposal.
Christie—who has for the most part steadfastly avoided commenting on issues of national reach, preferring to discuss the challenges he faces in New Jersey—said that the time had come for a national discussion on the big issues facing the country.
“I came today because I really think it’s extraordinarily important for those of us who believe that our country is off on the wrong track to begin the conversation about how we fix the problems that ail our states and our country in a direct and blunt way. I fear that after watching how things are going over the past month or two, that we’re missing an historic opportunity. And I will not be someone who will participate in, silently, missing that opportunity,” Christie said.
“During these times, it’s time to do the big things, the really big things. I don’t think there should be much disagreement across the country about what those big things are. For us in New Jersey, it’s three things: It’s restoring and maintaining fiscal sanity, getting pension and health benefits under control, reformed, and the costs lowered, and it’s reforming an education system that costs too much and produces too little for society today and our children’s future.”
Christie said that the country must be willing to talk frankly about these and other problems if solutions are going to be found. Turning his attention to the debate in Washington, Christie pronounced himself “worried” about the prospects for serious efforts to address the nation’s fiscal woes, and he laid the blame squarely at the feet of President Obama.
The governor said that he was disappointed by the President’s State of the Union speech, in which the Obama also talked of doing “big things.” Christie faulted Obama for failing to take on the truly serious issues facing the nation.
“I think it’s important to note [the speech] because of what he says the big things are,” Christie said. “He said the big things are high-speed rail, the big things are high-speed Internet access … a million electric cars on the road by some date. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics. Those are not the big things. Let me guarantee you, if we don’t fix the real big things, there are going to be no electric cars on the road, there’s going to be no high-speed Internet access … we’re not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the ‘investments’ that Washington wants to continue to make.”
Christie backed up his concern by pointing to the federal budget deficit, projected by the administration to be $1.6 trillion this fiscal year, the Social Security system, slated to run out of money in 2037, and Medicare, which will become insolvent in 2017. Christie derided what some see as a political strategy on the part of the administration for deliberately leaving entitlement reform out of the budget proposal. “Let me suggest to you [that my] and your children’s future is more important than any political strategy,” he said.
In questions after the address, Christie continued his lament about President Obama’s State of the Union. He said that he feared that the President would “cement his reelection” by “making the tough calls, being a centrist, not just looking like one.” Ultimately, however, Christie said that Obama failed to step up to the mantle of leadership. “I was looking for my President to challenge me, to say now is the time to fix the problems, and I’m going to lead you there. I was disappointed that he didn’t.”
Christie once again emphatically denied that he has any intention of running for President in 2012, although he admitted that he did “see the opportunity.” “That’s not a reason to be President of the United States,” he concluded. But this address, and Christie’s newfound willingness to stand up and take on the administration over matters of national importance, will likely only increase calls for him to seek the White House sooner rather than later.