N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama to meet
When it comes to cleaning up after a storm, all politics will likely turn out to be local. Just watch New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie, a Republican who has repeatedly denied that he has any interest in running for president in 2012, will meet with President Obama, a Democrat who is running for reelection, on Sunday in Paterson, N.J. Normally, that type of meeting would be routine after a major storm like Irene. Handshakes, a bit of condolence and some help are de rigueur.
But this meeting will be anything but routine, and not only because the two men could have been electoral opponents -– and may still be if some Republicans get their way. In effect, Obama will be reaching across the aisle to get Christie’s help to break the political deadlock that has gripped Washington in a vise. And Christie will most likely help because he needs the money.
The cost of cleaning up after Irene is expected to be in the billions of dollars. Figures are still being tabulated in New Jersey, but next door in New York the tab has already been put at more than $1 billion by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. New Jersey was hit at least as hard or harder, politicians there will argue, given the level of record flooding.
Top national Republicans, including House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have already argued that the federal government should help, but that the money needs to be offset by other spending cuts. That position has been sharply opposed by the Obama administration, which has been sparring with congressional Republicans over everything, but especially anything monetary -- raising the debt ceiling, spending cuts, whether to increase taxes.
“Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And [Congress] can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later,” Christie said in widely reported statements this week as he toured damaged areas with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
The feisty governor didn’t hold back about politicians, even those in his own party.
“You’re going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt limit thing where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks and you expect the citizens of my state to wait?” Christie said in a video distributed by his office. “They’re not gonna wait, and I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t. I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.
“We need the support now here in New Jersey, and that’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue,” Christie said.
His position that the federal government should send money is a bipartisan plea by governors in the states that sustained damage from Irene’s winds and especially the rain that sent many rivers and streams to flood levels before cresting Wednesday. Some, especially in New Jersey, will likely stay at flood levels until the end of the week.
“We need to get the federal assistance approved and into the state as quickly as possible,” Vermont’s Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement Thursday. His fellow Democrat, Cuomo, was equally blunt with federal officials Wednesday: "Sometimes the bottom line is the bottom line. We need help on the economics."
Former House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O’Neill is credited with the phrase that all politics are local, but his insight just follows in a long tradition of machine politics throughout the Northeast. Today's governors have already urged their congressional delegations to push for federal aid.
And that request is likely to cross party lines.
In addition to being a presidential election year, 2012 is a local election year -- when all of the House seats will be up for grabs and control of both houses of Congress will be at stake.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, left, looks on as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a tour of areas flooded by Irene. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press