Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response — in both English and Spanish — to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, championing economic growth and offering a limited government contrast to the president’s vision.
Considered to be a rising star in the GOP and already under the microscope as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, Rubio commenced speaking on opportunity and the promise of America.
“For much of human history, most people were trapped in stagnant societies, where a tiny minority always stayed on top, and no one else even had a chance,” he said. “But America is exceptional because we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious, and that everyone everywhere has a God-given right to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.”
Rubio — currently a standard bearer for immigration reform — spoke of his parent’s coming-to-America story “in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one.” Rubio said that although his parents did not leave him money, his inheritance was opportunity in America.
“I inherited something far better — the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams,” he said. “This opportunity — to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life — it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business.”
Rubio championed the idea that success begets success, wherein one person who succeeds in business can go on to hire additional people or invest in other businesses, he said, noting that both Democrats and Republican presidents have seen “our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.”
According to Rubio, however, President Obama sees free enterprise as the problem.
“He believes it’s the cause of our problems,” Rubio said. “That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.”
Rubio took issue with that belief, saying that the most recent economic downturn was due in part to government policies and spoke strongly against the idea that more government will lead to more success or prosperity.
The Florida Senator pointed to the president’s signature health-care law as an example of big government’s opportunity-stifling propensities.While it was intended to help Americans afford health insurance, Rubio said, it is leading to problems for businesses and the Americans they employ.
“But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with. And because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these businesses aren’t hiring. Not only that; they’re being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers.”
Instead, Rubio explained, government does have a role largely in a security and law enforcement capacity, but the Constitution “wisely” limits government.
The Florida senator took issue with the President and his allies’ tactics against those who disagree with his plans.
“When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air,” Rubio said. “When we suggest we strengthen our safety net programs by giving states more flexibility to manage them – he accuses us of wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves.”
And he addressed what he said is Obama’s “favorite attack,” that those who disagree with him “only care about rich people,” to which he answered that that he still lives in the same working class neighborhood he grew up in.
“Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors. Hard-working middle class Americans who don’t need us to come up with a plan to grow the government,” he said, adding that “economic growth is the best way to help the middle class” and pointed out that the economy shrank during the last three months of 2012.
He said that if America can, by contrast, get the economy to grow just 4 percent annually, more jobs would be created and deficits could be reduced nearly $4 trillion over the coming decade — adding that tax increases will not accomplish that goal.
Rubio touched on energy production as well, advocating opening up more federal land for “exploration,” working to become energy independent and lowering the corporate tax rate — as ways to inspire more economic growth.
The Florida senator at the center of the “Gang of Eight” senator’s immigration reform proposal also noted that reforming America’s system of immigration and bringing in the “best and brightest” will “help our economy grow.”
“We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws,” he said.
On education, Rubio spoke of school choice and the burden of tuition costs and student loan debt, saying there should be a new way to pay for higher education.
“We need student aid that does not discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on – like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience,” he said.
Rubio mentioned that he only recently finished paying off his own student loans — totaling over $100,000 — and that students should have more “information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they’re taking out.”
He went on to hammer America’s debt crisis, lamenting that it creates uncertainty and keeps money away from private investments.
“The President loves to blame the debt on President Bush. But President Obama created more debt in four years than his predecessor did in eight. The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year,” he said advocating for a balanced budget amendment.
He said that the intractability of many government programs is one of the reasons the budget is not balanced. He stressed however that he understands programs like Medicare are important to many — pointing out that his father used it when he had and eventually succumbed to cancer and that his mother is currently on the program.
“I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it,” he said. “Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today’s retirees. Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the President going to offer his plan to save it?”
On gun control, Rubio said that the 2nd Amendment should not be weakened for law abiding Americans and on foreign policy Rubio stressed the need for America to be “the strongest nation on earth,” but pointed out a weak economy is not conducive to that vision.
“In the short time I’ve been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight,” he said. “The choice isn’t just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs.”
Instead of raising taxes to avoid cutting defense spending he said, there should be “responsible spending reforms” and a focus on growth to create more taxpayers.
He added that quick fixes will not solve the problems, but noted that America’s strength is in its people, not government.
“It’s always come from our people. A people united by the American idea that, if you have a dream and you are willing to work hard, nothing should be impossible,” he said. “Americans have always celebrated and been inspired by those who succeed. But it’s the dreams of those who are still trying to make it that sets our nation apart.”
Closing his speech with optimism, Rubio spoke of the hopes of parents for their children and Americans’ hopes for the country.
“Each time our nation has faced great challenges, what has kept us together was our shared hope for a better life,” he said. “Now, let that hope bring us together again. To solve the challenges of our time and write the next chapter in the amazing story of the greatest nation man has ever known.”