NJ ADVANCE MEDIA // CLAUDE BRODESSER-AKNER
Gov. Chris Christie is discovering that New Hampshire voters also enjoy "telling it like it is" — or at least, as they see it.
Far away from the friendly-faced, Republican-heavy ZIP codes that have defined his New Jersey town halls, Christie almost immediately found his plan to reform Social Security challenged in disarmingly plainspoken terms at a New Hampshire town hall meeting.
"Anybody here want to work a couple extra years?" a woman asked to several nods from around the hall, before turning to face Christie head-on.
"Why not just make really rich people pay the same amount as middle class people? Why shouldn't they have to pay Social Security on their full income?"
It marked the one of the few times a direct criticism of the governor's entitlement reform plan had found its way into a Christie town hall.
Christie was taken aback a bit.
"Well 'cause I'm gonna. ... Because my plan says they shouldn't get Social Security," Christie answered.
"But why are you asking middle class people to work longer?" the woman continued, unmoved. "It doesn't seem fair."
To keep the Social Security trust fund from becoming insolvent, Christie has argued for raising the U.S.retirement age by two years for both early and full retirement Social Security benefits, and for eliminating retirement benefits for those retirees earning more than $200,000.
Currently, the 6.2 percent Social Security withholding tax only applies to wages up to $118,500. Pew Research says the result is that working class people pay a disproportionately higher effective tax rate than the well-heeled. For example, a worker earning $40,000 will pay $2,480, or 6.2 percent, in Social Security tax, but an executive earning $400,000 will pay $7,347, for an effective rate of 1.8 percent.
Christie, however, has said he is firmly against lifting the cap.
"What will be less fair is when Social Security goes bankrupt," Christie answered, noting that he planned to phase in the age increase over 25 years. "That's plenty of time to plan for an extra two years of work."
"But you shouldn't have to," the woman said.
"But you do have to," Christie insisted.
"If the really rich people paid on their full amount of their earning - just like us in here have to do," offered the woman, trailing off.
"There are not enough rich people in the United States," interrupted Christie, "nor enough money, to be able to fund what we would need with a growing population, to be able to have that be the only way you can solve this."
According to the non-partisan, non-profit Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, Christie's Social security proposal closes only about 60 percent of Social Security's 75-year shortfall.
After much back and forth, Christie was ready to move on, saying, "Listen, with all due respect, I hear this in New Jersey all the time: 'Raise taxes on somebody else.'"
The woman wasn't having it.
"It's always going to be a tax increase," she said, asking, "When is someone going to stand up for the middle class and say, 'You guys have paid enough!' We've put enough in. Let the one per centers, or whoever they are, pay. This trickle down thing isn't working."
Christie sought to pivot back to an attack on Obama.
"Under this president, and his policies ..." Christie began to say.
"Oh, get off it," said the woman, disgusted. "'This president,' 'This president' 'He's done everything bad ...'"
Christie, who has lost his patience when continuously challenged in New Jersey town halls, kept his cool.
"Are you running for president?" Christie later asked, his voice even and calm, "Because I'm not here to debate you. I'd like to answer your question. If we're going to continue to go back and forth like this, we're not going to get anywhere."
"I am probably a long shot to win your vote," Christie acknowledged after the lengthy repartee, to laughter from the audience.