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Chris Christie’s entitlement cuts make sense: Analyst

Potential presidential hopeful Chris Christie's proposal to reform entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare was bold and makes a lot of sense, a public policy analyst said Tuesday.

The Republican governor of New Jersey laid out his plan during a speech in New Hampshire, the site of the first 2016 presidential primary. In it, he proposed pushing back the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare as part of his plan to cut deficits by $1 trillion over a decade.

"What the governor did today is he hugged the third rail and it's a discussion this country has to have," said Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Government.

"These entitlement programs are on an unsustainable path, and if we do nothing in Social Security there will be abrupt automatic cuts of a quarter to a third to people who are on the program, including those who really depend on it."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Christie, who has said he'll make a decision about whether to run for president in May or June, proposed raising the retirement age for Social Security to 69, beginning with gradual increases in 2022. The Medicare eligibility age would be increased gradually to 67 by 2040.

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Christie also wants to cut off of Social Security benefits in the future for retirees with annual incomes of $200,000 or more and suggests turning Medicaid into a block grant program to the states.

"I know a lot of people who are very well off who still take their Social Security benefits but do say as part of overall a reform package they'd be willing to go without them," MacGuineas said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

"I think it makes a whole lot of sense to make the benefit formula much more progressive than it is and to make the benefits there for people who depend on it."

However, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy priorities, told "Closing Bell" that entitlement reform doesn't necessarily mean entitlement reduction.

"We shouldn't just assume that entitlement reform means entitlement reduction, especially for people who depend on it."

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Overall, he doesn't like the way Christie approached the issue.

"Social Security is really a very good, effective, efficient program that's working really well. Two-thirds of its beneficiaries depend on Social Security for half of their income," said Bernstein, also a CNBC contributor.

In fact, he said the program is solvent for the next 18 years and after that it would be able to pay 75 percent of benefits.

That said, he agrees there is "room to do something" at the top income levels.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.