Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why Chris Christie could give the GOP field a shot of courage


I do not think Chris Christie can win the GOP nomination. Most experts do not think Chris Christie can win the GOP nomination. Opinion polls do not suggest  Chris Christie can win the GOP nomination.

And yet, there may be good reasons for Christie to seek the GOP nomination, even if he ultimately fails.

We got an example of such a reason on Tuesday, when the New Jersey governor proposed necessary, if perhaps unpopular, changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Here's the gist from the Associated Press :

"Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie proposed pushing back the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare for future retirees on Tuesday as part of a plan to cut deficits by $1 trillion over a decade, an approach he said would confront the nation's 'biggest challenges in an honest way.'

"In a speech in New Hampshire, site of the first 2016 presidential primary, the New Jersey governor also proposed reducing Social Security benefits in the future for retirees earning more than $80,000 a year and eliminating them for those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more. He said seniors who work after age 62 should be exempt from the payroll tax."

Eligibility for the programs would change as follows :

  • For Social Security, which is set to hit a full-retirement age of 67 in 2022, the age would increase by two months per year until it reached 69 (at that pace, it would reach that age in 2034) and then be indexed thereafter to gains in longevity. The early-retirement age would rise to 64 from the current 62.
  • For Medicare, the age of eligibility would reach 67 by 2040 and 69 by 2064. That's an increase of one month per year.

Among Americans born in 1875 -- i.e., the first people to receive Social Security benefits -- only about half of men and 60 percent of women lived to age 65. Fifty years later, it was three in four men and five in six women. And those figures haven't been updated (at least on Social Security's website ) in a quarter of a century; they're no doubt higher now.

So a four-year increase in the full-retirement age over the course of almost one century is hardly extreme -- even if Democrats and perhaps some vote-hungry Republicans will say it is.

The income thresholds (or "means testing") for benefits will probably be even more controversial, even though it's equally sensible. Democrats say they want to raise taxes on the rich; Republicans say they want to reduce spending. Phasing out Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees seems like a logical compromise between the two positions: It focuses on spending rather than taxes, but it also comes at the expense of "the rich" rather than middle-income Americans.

In fact, every Democrat, starting with Hillary Clinton, ought to be asked a simple question: If you favor raising taxes on "the rich," why not support lowering Social Security benefits for them?

***

Elections are not normally times when these kinds of compromises are discussed. Enter the need for Christie's candidacy.

Whether or not he -- as opposed to the rest of us -- thinks he can win, the premise of his entire political career has been his penchant for straight shooting about tough problems and hard solutions. As long as it emboldens his GOP opponents rather than turning them into pander bears, that could be a very good thing for his party's primary contest.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.