As he gears up for a possible presidential campaign, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to portray himself as someone willing to take on the sacred cow of entitlements.
The Republican governor traveled Tuesday to New Hampshire, the location of the first primary in the nation, to propose changes to the country’s entitlement system, including raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.
“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country,” Christie said during his speech at Saint Anselm College. “I am not.”
During his speech, Christie prefaced his calls to raise the eligibility age for these programs by emphasizing that the changes would not affect those currently collecting these benefits but would be implemented to “save these programs for your grandchildren.”
“Let me be clear,” Christie said. “The changes I propose today to Social Security and Medicare would not materially affect seniors currently receiving these benefits or seniors approaching retirement.”
Pointing out that Americans are “living longer and more productive lives today than at any point in our history,” Christie said “we need to raise the retirement age for Social Security.
“I’m proposing we raise the age to 69, gradually implementing this change starting in 2022 and increasing the retirement age by two months each year until it reaches 69,” Christie said. “I also believe we need to raise the early retirement age at a similar pace, raising it by two months per year until it reaches 64 from the current level of 62.”
“Which means we should do the same for Medicare,” Christie continued. “We should raise eligibility age at a manageable pace of one month per year, so that by 2040 it would be 67 years old, and by 2064 would be 69 years old.”
Christie argued raising the eligibility age makes sense because when Medicare was enacted, life expectancy in the United States was 67 years old for a man, and 73 for a woman. “Today, life expectancy in this country is 79 for a man and 82 for a woman,” he said.
Christie said raising the retirement age “encourages productive senior citizens to remain in the workforce.” He also called for incentivizing seniors to work by eliminating their payroll tax.
“Economists estimate that this payroll tax cut for those over 62 would contribute to labor supply growth and therefore GDP growth in the US,” he said. “This growth would offset much of the lost revenues from the tax cut.”
Christie also called for means-testing Social Security and Mediciare.
“Let’s ask ourselves an honest question: do we really believe that the wealthiest Americans need to take from younger, hard working Americans to receive what, for most of them, is a modest monthly social security check?” Christie asked. “I propose a modest means test that only affects those with non-Social Security income of over $80,000 per year, and phases out Social Security payments entirely for those that have $200,000 a year of other income. We should apply the same concept to Medicare.”
Christie — in his speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in his capacity as chairman of the Leadership Matters for America PAC — said he anticipated attacks over his proposals.
“I know some in both political parties will criticize these ideas,” he said. “Some will surrender to the divisiveness, the fear mongering and the scare tactics that are generously served on the political menu in Washington, D.C. every day.”
Here’s how Christie’s PAC summed up the proposals in a fact sheet to reporters:
Expanding existing premium means testing to Medicare. Governor Christie proposes keeping it simple – if you can afford to pay more for your health benefits you will and if you can’t, you won’t;
Raising the retirement age for Social Security to 69 and raising early retirement to 64;
Raising the eligibility age for Medicare one month per year, so that by 2040 it would be 67 years old;
Eliminating the payroll tax for seniors who stay in the workforce over 62;
A per capita allocation program for Medicaid to allow states to create consumer centric systems, which offer better services and lowers costs. Per capita caps are indexed to the number of enrollees in Medicaid, giving each state a set amount of funds per individual enrollee.