How is Christy different from all republicans (and democrats)?

1/20/2014 03:04:00 PM
How was Christie's denial of hurricane relief funding any different than Beohner's refusal to call the vote that would have prevented the government shutdown?
Josh Barro has a nice piece showing that there isn't necessarily anything terribly suspicious about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's actions with regard to hurricane relief funding for the city of Hoboken. Slate and others have made this out to be a worse scandal than the George Washington bridge, but I will confess that I just don't see it that way. On the one hand, there isn't really any clear evidence to verify the accusations in the Hoboken case, while we know that, if it wasn't Christie himself, his top lieutenants did engage in malicious corruption in the bridge case.

However, even if we take the Hoboken accusation at face value, it still doesn't quite measure up on the scandal-o-meter. Closing the George Washington bridge was a clear case of political retribution. There was no policy disagreement--it was all about enforcing a political machine to get Christie re-elected, and political machines by their nature are morally objectionable, corrupt, and illegal. But Hoboken wasn't about votes. It was a policy disagreement. One way to put it is that Christie denied grant funds in retribution for the mayor's refusal to enact a policy Christie favored. But another way to put it was that Christie proposed a political compromise--extra funding in exchange for a policy concession--and the mayor decided that the deal was not in the city's favor.

To be sure, I think Christie's policy compromise was a rotten deal from the inside out. But I also think it was no less rotten than congressional republicans denying funding for the entire US government in retribution for Democrats' insistence that the poor be protected. The fact is that what Christie did in Hoboken--if he even did do it--is totally unremarkable in US politics. Demanding policy concessions in exchange for funding is exactly how US federalism usually works, and if we find Christie's actions were corrupt, then we need to have a much, much longer discussion here. It is true that the funds in this particular incident were intended for disaster relief, but how is it more objectionable to deny disaster relief than poverty relief, which is exactly what the Federal government does with medicaid funds every year. And while I understand that the Sandy funds would have helped Hoboken rebuild broken highways, how is demanding concessions for that any different than what Congress does with interstate highway funds every year?

Maybe the real problem here is not the rotten deal Christie apparently offered to Hoboken. Maybe the problem is that the New Jersey Governor's office apparently has that kind of power.