November 9, 2010

What Overprice Christie?

Hatched by Dafydd

The title of course riffs off of the series of posts about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie titled "What Price Christie?," published by Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker on Power Line from May through August this year.

Last Thursday, Republican darling Christie was as adamant as can be that he will not run for president in 2012:

“I've said I don't want to. I'm not going to. There is zero chance I will. I don't feel like I'm ready to be president. I don't want to run for president. I don't have the fire in the belly to run for president. But, yet, everyone seems to think that I've left the door open a little bit,” he said Thursday in exasperation.

I took Christie at his word, as did many others, that he believed he simply wasn't yet qualified to be president, having served as governor for only a single year (three years by the 2012 election).

But perhaps there is a more disturbing reason. Yesterday, Department of Justice investigators outed Christie as the U.S. Attorney who most abused his travel allowance:

Investigators focused on the cases of five U.S. attorneys -- also not identified by name but similarly assigned letters -- who "exhibited a noteworthy pattern of exceeding the government rate without appropriate justification."

The IG's report says "U.S. Attorney C" [Christie] booked a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington at a cost of $475 per night -- more than double the government rate of $233 per night for the District. He told investigators he chose the room because the hotel was the site of an early-morning speech he was scheduled to deliver -- a justification the inspector general rejected as inadequate.

The report said U.S. Attorney C also booked a room at Nine Zero Hotel in Boston at a cost of $449 per night -- again double the government rate in Boston of $220 per night. Investigators noted that during the Boston trip, he also spent $236 for a car service to chauffeur him the four miles to and from the airport....

The records show that he billed taxpayers more than $400 a night for stays in luxury hotels and exceeded the government's hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.

The travel corruption did become a campaign issue when Christie ran for governor in November 2009, and he just sloughed it off as nothing. Despite the furor, he narrowly beat incumbent Jon Corzine by 3.6%, with 5.8% going to Independent candidate Chris Daggett (who appears, from his Wikipedia entry, to have been a liberal Republican à la John Anderson before turning Independent). But then, Corzine was hardly in a position to point a finger at the corrupt mote in Christie's eye, given the steel I-beam of corruption in his own.

However, I think it possible that Christie has concluded that such low-level, "Sgt. Bilko"-style bilking of taxpayers might fly in New Jersey, but it wouldn't be acceptable in other parts of the country. (And certainly not from a Republican!) In fact, it stinks of the House check-kiting scandal of 1992 and could become the central issue of a presidential campaign against Barack H. Obama, overshadowing Christie's very real achievements as governor.

Will Christie ever run? I think the cheating is minor enough that it won't hold him back forever. If Obama is defeated in 2012, Christie could run in 2020; he will still only be 58, a prime age for a presidential run. And if, heaven forbid, the Obamacle is reelected, then Christie could run four years earlier, when he will be 54.

But either way, he will have to come up with a more contrite answer to the question: Why, as U.S. Attorney, did Christie defraud taxpayers to finance luxurious travel accomodations? In particular, Christie is going to have to swallow hard and admit he did wrong; voters outside the state will never accept the explanation, "Badda bing, badda boom, it's Jersey!"

Especially now, with the rise of Tea Parties around the country, voters -- no matter how much they like Christie's principles and positions and his willingness to fight for them -- are not in a mood to coddle politicians who think they're exempt from the rules that apply to everybody else.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 9, 2010, at the time of 11:46 AM

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The following hissed in response by: GW

I do not see this as disqualifying for President. We are talking about exceeding per diem on trips by about $350 per year over 6 years on hotels booked by his secretary. If the Justice Dept did not find his justifications warranted at the time, then all they had to do was disallow them and take the difference out of Christie's paycheck. Christie could then have contested the matter or accepted the decision of the Justice Dept. That it did not happen then and is only being raised as an issue now, years after these payments were incurred, stinks to high heaven of politics. Calling this a scandal is making a mountain out of a mole hill. Claiming that this will be a major issue should Christie run for high office is ridiculous.

The above hissed in response by: GW [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 11, 2010 5:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

When I worked for the feds, I could stay at any hotel I wanted. However, comma, I was reimbursed for the expenses only up to the max allowed. Anything over that came out of my pocket.
By what definition is that called 'corruption'?

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 11, 2010 10:36 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Bart Johnson:

They changed that system some time ago. It used to be that you got $X of per diem, and it was up to you how you spent it: If you booked a more expensive hotel, you paid the difference; but if you booked a cheaper one, you could pocket the difference.

But now you make reservations, and if accepted by the system, the feds pay the hotel bill themselves; you don't get to keep any of that money, even if you opt for a hotel that is much cheaper than the per-diem rate. Nowadays, for ordinary federal workers like Sachi, if you try to reserve a room that's over per diem, the system will just kick it back and not make the res.

But high enough ranking employees can evidently override that mechanical decision and just file a form of some sort. This appears to be what Christie did: Simply ignore the per-diem ceiling, book a much more expensive room, override the system's objections, and stay there at taxpayer expense.


We're not talking reality, we're talking perception, much more powerful than mere substance!

For a similar example, in reality, earmarks are only a trivial percent of the amount of overspending by Congress, a drop in the proverbial iceberg. But earmarks symbolize congressional corruption, and those members who consistently score earmarks for their state or district are now seen as hucksters at best, thieves at worst.

Similarly, luxury travel at taxpayer expense symbolizes government elitism and narcissistic unconcern for ordinary people. It attacks what should be Christie's strongest asset: His connection to the common folk.

Nothing builds up resentment against a politico faster than watching him dine on caviar and pheasant, sleep at the Four Seasons, and commandeer a chauffeured limousine to jaunt to and from the airport -- when ordinary business travelers dine at Mimi's Cafe, sleep at Courtyard by Marriott, and squeeze into an Airport Shuttle with five other sweaty, unwashed passengers.

It will definitely hurt any future campaign, and he will definitely have to come up with a better answer than what he's given so far, no matter how irrelevant such questions are "in reality" to the job of being President of the United States.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 12, 2010 12:39 AM

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