Unwittingly or not, Barack Obama set himself up for a duel with America’s “it” Republican of the moment when he used his State of the Union speech to make the case for activist government.
“We do big things,” the President repeatedly insisted in his Jan. 25 address, as he called on Congress to approve new spending to build high speed rail lines, expand broadband Internet access and subsidize electric cars.
If the expression sounded familiar to voters in New Jersey,cheap nfl jerseys http://www.cheapnfljerseysonlinef.top it’s because their governor, Chris Christie, had only days earlier made “it’s time to do the big things” the theme of his annual address to the state legislature.
“Now, I’m not saying he copied me,” Mr. Christie quipped this week in a Washington speech. “But I think it’s important to note because of what he says the big things are.”
Trains, data lanes and electric automobiles are, in Mr. Christie view, “the candy of American politics.” His own “big things” are less pleasant to talk about, but, he insists, countless times more pressing than fast trains.
“If we’re not honest about these things on the state level about pensions and benefits, and on the federal level about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid we are on the path to ruin,” the burly former federal prosecutor hammered home in his Washington coming out.
The speech, before a capacity crowd at the American Enterprise Institute, cemented Mr. Christie’s rock star status among Republicans who are eyeing forlornly the current GOP crop of 2012 contenders.
As newly elected Republican governors across the country move to slash spending and take on state employees’ unions, they are following the take no prisoners example set by the 48 year old Mr. Christie. His late 2009 election, in a state that tilts Democratic, was an early sign of voter outrage at government spending gone awry during the recession.
“What Chris Christie has done better than almost any other elected official in America is capture the zeitgeist,” explained Ben Dworkin, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “It makes sense that governors in other states would try to tap into that same vein of the public mood.”
Once in office, Mr. Christie declared a “state of fiscal emergency,” allowing him to implement immediate spending cuts without seeking the approval of the Democratic controlled legislature.
Having lost the public relations battle, even the Democratic legislature, which had called for raising income taxes on the wealthiest New Jersey residents, backed down and approved Mr. Christie’s painful budget.
While Mr. Obama champions infrastructure spending as one of the keys to “winning the future,” Mr. Christie cancelled the country’s biggest such project a $9 billion commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River saying New Jersey could no longer afford its share of the tab.
Mr. Christie’s bulldozer personality fits his imposing physique he’s conceded to being “pretty fat” and both serve to make him an irresistible, if politically incorrect, foil to the typical polished and plastic politician.
True to form, he is now in the midst of a brutal battle to fix New Jersey’s teetering state pension system, which faces an unfunded liability of $54 billion, by chopping benefits, raising the retirement age and increasing employee contributions.
A similar showdown with unions came to a head this week in Wisconsin, where the state’s new GOP governor, Scott Walker, tabled an emergency “repair bill.” It seeks to close a budget gap by withdrawing collective bargaining rights (wages excepted) and requiring state workers to pay more for health and pension benefits. Democrats in the state Senate have prevented the bill from coming to a vote by staying away from work.
Mr. Obama has called Mr. Walker’s bill “an assault on unions.” His reminder this week that “these are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers” was likely a perfunctory nod to a key Democratic constituency.
But it hinted at the approach the President could take as he gears up for his own re election. By leaving it to Republicans to wield the axe at both the state and federal levels he may be counting on voter fatigue with Draconian budget slashing by the time the country goes to the polls in 2012.
Republicans seem willing to play along. With 45 states facing combined budget shortfalls of $125 billion for the 2012 fiscal year that begins this July 1, the cuts are only starting.
Most states cannot run deficits and must close their budget gaps by either reducing spending and/or raising taxes. And almost every GOP governor has pledged not to increase taxes. The GOP picked up 11 governorships, to hold 29, and more than 650 legislative seats in last fall’s elections. There are now more GOP legislators than at any time since 1928.
And their vision of government could not contrast more with that of the President.
Mr. Walker, along with newly elected GOP governors in Ohio and Florida, has turned up his nose at Mr. Obama’s offer of funding for high speed rail, frustrating the President’s vision of a national fast train network.
Mr. Christie, meanwhile, insists he will not run for president for 2012. He has joked he might need to commit suicide to get the pundits to believe him. But take him at his word: He’s got bigger things to do first.