Opinion: Will Gov. Chris Christie Rescue the U.S. Economy?

R. William Potter | July 12, 2011 | Opinion
Default on the U.S. debt is unthinkable. Is there a superhero in the state?

Dear Governor Christie:

In this time of superheroes, from Harry Potter to Spiderman, you could be the closest we have to the real thing.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that you may be the only person who can break the logjam in Congress, which is holding the U.S. economy hostage to Tea Party demands.

As you know, on August 2, if Congress has not raised the national debt ceiling — which won’t happen if Republicans stick to their “no compromise” stance against any “revenue raisers” — then the U.S. government will not be able to pay its bills.

And if that happens, the nation will default on its debts to bondholders. Half of that debt, $4.5 trillion, is owed to foreign governments, with almost a fourth owed to China alone.

The nation and world could be plunged back into the Great Recession, reminiscent of 1937, when debt fearmongers induced FDR to cut federal spending prematurely, knocking the country back into the economic doldrums.

Default will not spare New Jersey. Default will signal to investors that no government debt is safe, triggering a tsunami of higher interest rates washing over every state, county, city and township.

Bruce Bartlett, economic advisor to Presidents Reagan and Bush, has debunked the Tea Party notion that credit markets won’t notice “missing a few days” of bond payment. “This is nothing but wishful thinking,” he wrote, warning that borrowing costs will surge by “tens of billions of dollars a year” if there is even a short delay.

So what can you, governor of little New Jersey, do? Plenty.

You jumped into the debt fray once to blast the president, now you need to do the same with a badly needed reality check for your Tea Party admirers.

Just as you called out President Obama for his failure to “show up,” as you bluntly put it, in budget negotiations, you need to do the same with Congressional leaders in your party who are making it next to impossible for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) even to hint at a compromise with Obama.

You were right to speak up the first time. With a crisis looming only weeks away, this was no time for a hands-off president.

What happened after you spoke up? The day after your on-air call for the president to replace the vice president in budget talks, Obama announced he would take personal charge of all deficit negotiations with Congressional leaders.

Now it’s time for you to speak up again, this time to your own party stalwarts, starting with the New Jersey delegation. You need to tell them about your compromise on public workers’ pension funding with Democratic legislators. You need to remind the likes of rejectionist House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) that government is the art of compromise, not “my way or the highway,” as the President pointed out.

Only a spirit of “shared sacrifice,” as you have put it, can end the deficit impasse, as default edges closer every day. The president said he has “bent over backwards” to meet GOP demands for slashing “Great Society” entitlement programs.

But so far he’s getting no “bending” in return. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are tethered to the “no revenue raisers,” no matter if the economy and the national interest hang in the balance.

To date, among Republicans, no prominent office holder has broken ranks with the party purists. But conservative columnist David Brooks has. In a recent column, he wrote of the “calamitous effects” of default and warned his fellow Republicans they will bear the blame.

“If responsible Republicans don’t take control [of the budget talks from the Tea Party ideologues], independent voters will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right.”

Governor, your standing in the national presidential polls is higher than any declared candidate. You have described New Jersey as “showing the way” on budget reforms. And you have said you are willing to “spend your political capital.” Now our nation needs some “Jersey straight talk” with Congressional Republicans.

Still not convinced? Ask yourself, what would a superhero like Captain America do? “Speak truth to power,” as you said. It may be now or never.