Chris Christie has about as much chance of being the Republican nominee as I do, but that's not going to stop him from joining the debate and making his contribution to the noise machine.
Speaking in New Hampshire today, Christie called for Social Security and Medicare to be gutted. You won't find that headline in the mainstream press. They refer to it with kinder, gentler terms like "entitlement reform" or "means testing," but his proposals really would gut Social Security altogether.
Here is what Christie thinks should be done, as presented on his outline.
Eliminate all Social Security benefits for those with income over $200,000, with a sliding reduction for those who have income between $80,000-$199,999.
This would spell an end to Social Security, effectively converting it from a plan of universal social insurance to a welfare program that would find itself vulnerable to further cuts. The strength of Social Security rests on a simple principle: Everyone pays in; everyone receives benefits.
Raise Normal Retirement Age to 69. Of course, he wouldn't touch a thing for current retirees, because he couldn't sell the plan if he did. But he would certainly confirm the self-fulfilling prophecy of conservatives who routinely tell young people Social Security won't be there for them when they're eligible.
Increase Early Retirement Age to 64 from 62 - This one gets me the angriest, given that older employees are the ones most vulnerable to layoffs and have the most difficulty getting another job. That early retirement age is a lifeline to many, especially those who have suffered through the Great Recession.
Reduce payroll taxes for working seniors - Oh, that sounds like a nice thing, doesn't it? Except the wages those few working seniors earn count toward their Social Security benefits, and often increase them. Reducing the payroll tax would freeze their benefits and give them no credit for additional wages earned.
Use chained CPI for cost-of-living increases - This one needs little explanation, given how it was received when Obama was receptive to it.
Christie had other proposals for Medicaid and SDI as well, but those were the usual right-wing lipstick on the pig, like block grants for Medicaid and more. On SDI, it was fluff like encouraging vocational rehab. All of the substance was concentrated on Social Security.
Like all Republicans, Christie is an opportunist.
On the first day of the current Congress, GOP leaders used a covert rules measure to ensure a manufactured funding crisis within the Social Security Disability Insurance program that is separate from Social Security retirement benefits.
The move will force a showdown over the disability program sometime next year, something Christie enthusiastically endorsed in Tuesday’s speech. “I believe we should use this moment to reform the system and incentivize getting back to work,” he said.
The good news in all of this is that Chris Christie has no chance of getting the Republican nomination, so he's just serving as Wall Street's mouthpiece with regard to the social safety net. After all, how can all of the others in the Republican Clown Car pretend to be populists while running on the platform of gutting Social Security? He's just play-acting for Wall Streeters, so they can maintain some modicum of relevance while the extreme religious right and neocon factions determine who gets the nomination.
Christie just handed Hillary Clinton a big fat campaign gift, because she has an opportunity to campaign on expanding Social Security rather than gutting it. Let's hope she does so.