Updated at 9:32 a.m. on February 17.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said on Wednesday that Washington's reluctance to tackle entitlement reform would—among other things—raise the Social Security retirement age and put the country on the path toward fiscal ruin.
The country needs leadership, not timidity, Christie said.
“Leadership in America today has to be about doing the big things and being courageous,” he said during his roughly 40-minute speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Christie drew on his own experience as New Jersey governor, a 13-month tenure marked by his high-profile campaign to reduce benefits for public-sector unions, as proof that voters will reward politicians who tackle entitlement systems that have traditionally been politically toxic.
“Let me guarantee, we will be judged,” he said. “We will be judged by our children and grandchildren that, at this moment, did we bury our heads in the sand? Did we surround ourselves with our creature comforts and believe that just because we’re American everything will be OK?
“Or will our children and grandchildren be able to say at this moment, we stood up and did the hard things that made a future of greatness possible for them?” he asked.
Christie’s appearance in the nation’s capital will surely stoke speculation that he might still seek the GOP presidential nomination, although he again vigorously denied he’ll do so. Instead, he said he came to Washington because he’s worried the actions of President Obama and lawmakers at the onset of the new legislative session signal they aren’t serious about tackling “the big things” plaguing the country.
Obama's decision not to include entitlement reform in his budget was disappointing, Christie said, particularly after he heard that Obama was waiting for Republicans to suggest something first. Christie added that had Obama showed leadership and proposed the changes, he would have guaranteed himself reelection.
He mocked Obama's proposals for investment in high-speed rail and high-speed Internet, which he called peripheral to the real problems facing the country.
But he also chided, in a mocking tone, the “bold” new House Republicans, who he said won’t propose the changes until the president does so.
“Let me suggest to you that my child's future and your child's future is more important than some political strategy,” he said. “Let me suggest to you what game is being played down here is irresponsible and dangerous.”
Christie repeatedly drew parallels between how he has handled the fiscal deficits plaguing New Jersey and how lawmakers should handle them at the national level. The key lesson: Unlike perhaps any time in recent history, voters are more willing to accept cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid because they know the reductions are the only way to solve the problem.
Voters will not only reward those who don’t “sugarcoat” the country’s problems—they’ll punish those politicians who do.
“My approval rating is at 54 percent,” he said. “It’s not a disaster. In fact, I’m more popular today than the day I was elected," even in Democratic-leaning New Jersey.
Christie’s fiscal austerity has become a model for many new governors across the country, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
“Across the river, you have the son of a liberal icon who is saying the exact same things that I’m saying,” Christie said. “I defy you to look at the first six weeks of the Cuomo administration in Albany and discern much of a difference between what Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying and what Governor Chris Christie is saying on these big issues.”