In a speech sanctioned as the official Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio outlined a personal and direct rebuttal to key parts of the speech, criticizing Obama's call for higher taxes and increased federal spending.
Speaking from the House Speaker's conference room in the U.S. Capitol immediately after the State of the Union, Rubio accused Obama of treating the "free enterprise economy [as] the cause" of the nation's problems and pushed hard against Obama's assertion that his policies would help the middle class.
"The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle-class families," Rubio said. "It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So 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."
Early in his rebuttal, Rubio also polished his pro-life credentials: "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."
Since he was first elected to the Senate two years ago, Rubio has quickly risen to play a prominent and public role in the party. Last week Republican leaders asked him to deliver the official Republican response to the State of the Union, a major opportunity for a lawmaker who could have far more grand ambitions than the Senate. Rubio also delivered his speech in Spanish, the first lawmaker to give a bilingual response.
In Obama's address to Congress Tuesday night, he reiterated his call for Congress to rein in the deficit in part by raising taxes on the highest earners, which Rubio criticized as an "obsession."
"His solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more," Rubio said. "There’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That’s why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy."
On two of the most prominent issues of the day, immigration and gun control—which Obama emphasized at length during his speech—Rubio only made short, vague mentions. Rubio, who has been instrumental in leading the Republican effort to negotiate a bipartisan immigration reform bill, advocated for "a responsible, permanent solution" to the nation's illegal immigration problem, but only after the nation's borders are made secure. On gun control, Rubio said the nation "must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country," but without "undermining the 2nd Amendment."
The Florida lawmaker also made efforts to draw a contrast between Republicans and the president on the role of government.
"More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back," Rubio argued. "More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them. And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty."