Gov. Chris Christie’s afternoon press conference was everything you could expect or hope for from the guy. For 20-odd minutes, he lit into “the House majority and its Speaker, John Boehner,” for telling him “as late as last night, 9 o’clock,” that there’d be a vote moving forward the Hurricane Sandy relief bills. Egged on by reporters – who could blame them? – Christie ridiculed the “palace intrigue” and the “fake” crisis that had occupied Washington. The longest video I’ve found comes from a YouTube user who seems to have belatedly realized how incredible this was and hit “record” part of the way through, like flipping through channels and starting the VHS recorder after seeing that the good part of The Dirty Dozen is on.
This is a stellar use of star power, and it underscores just how lazy the median D.C. pol is when it comes to explaining what it needs. Before he gets into the serious calling out, Christie explains that Eric Cantor had split up the bill into portions that would attract different constituencies. “The theory was there were many people in the Republican caucus – a majority, or more – who would vote for the $27 billion,” he says, referring to the National Flood Insurance fund money and some more aid, “less that would vote for the additional $33 [billion].” Indeed. Republican leaders were aware of how little appetite there was for disaster aid, and Cantor personally had been burned before when he demanded offsets to pay for tornado aid in Missouri.
But instead of explaining this, Republicans allowed a familiar narrative – oh, the bill’s full of pork and waste! – to creep out. Christie mocks the narrative in the single boldest part of this rant. The “pork,” he points out, was $600 million in a total $60 billion package – one percent of the total. The Republicans who got angry about that, he says, are dupes. “Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we send and a little less time reading the talking points sent by their staff.”
That’s quite an ask. Making fun of waste in an omnibus bill is one of the GOP’s most effective tactics. It was key to the strategy against the 2009 stimulus bill, making the “porkiest” parts of the bill famous, then forcing Democrats to denounce them, creating an impression of disarray and shame. And here Christie admits that it’s a sort of cheap argument, not worth sinking legislation over.
UPDATE: Boehner’s office now pledges a Friday vote on the smaller chunk of Sandy relief – $9 billion for flood insurance – then more votes on January 15. Because the current Congress ceases to exist at 11:59 a.m. tomorrow, the new House bill will have to be passed in the Senate, too, then auto-penned by Obama.