Republican presidential hopefuls panned President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, focusing their attacks on economic issues — specifically, the tax package the president proposed.
The presidential primaries will be in full swing a year from now, and potential GOP candidates utilized the president's annual remarks to highlight their differences. "The American people resoundingly said [in the November elections], 'the Obama economy isn’t working and we want a different path,'" Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in Statuary Hall, where members of Congress and the media crowded after the speech.
"The president could have come out tonight and told the American people that he heard them," Cruz continued to a scrum of reporters. "That we would change paths, that we would come together and focus where we should have been focusing in the first place: on jobs and economic growth and opportunity. But instead the president doubled down on a failed economic agenda — he doubled down on more and more taxes, more and more spending, more and more debt, and these policies have resulted in the lowest labor force participation since 1978."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is up for re-election in 2016 and is considering a presidential bid, said "too many people are not experiencing" the improved economy.
"To lift more Americans into the middle class, we need to move forward with a 21st century agenda that ensures an equality of opportunity, not one that doubles down on outdated proposals to tax and spend more," Rubio said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose seat is also up next year, focused on the economy in a recorded rebuttal posted online after Obama's speech had concluded.
"Tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies," Paul said. "Policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer, and the rich to get richer. Pitting one American against another is not a pathway towards prosperity. The president is intent on redistributing the pie, and not growing it. He misunderstands that the bulk of America wants a bigger pie."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who is traveling to Iowa Saturday for a statewide tour, also took Obama to task on his fiscal proposals, accusing the president of making "class warfare arguments."
"The President's speech tonight was previewed as a 'Robin Hood' Address, but the problem is Barack Obama doesn't just want to take from the rich and give to the poor, he wants to take from the rich, poor, and everyone in between and give to his Administration," Santorum said in a statement. "Increasing taxes on average Americans looking to save for college, on the land of hard working farming families, and on millions of our neighbors is not a prescription for empowering the great middle of America that is hurting."
In a statement posted to his Facebook page, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lambasted Obama's tax proposals.
"We need to create economic opportunity for every American, especially middle class families and those trying to rise out of poverty," Bush said. "While the sluggish recovery has been good for some, far too many people have been left behind. It's unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us — instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American. We can do better."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP's presidential nominee in 2012, had a similar response.
"More intent on winning elections than on winning progress, [Obama] ignores the fact that the country has elected a Congress that favors smaller government and lower taxes. ... His tax proposal is a maze of new taxes and complexities. The best way to lower the tax burden on all American families is straightforward: lower rates and simplify the tax code," Romney wrote in a Facebook post.
Some of the potential Republican contenders mentioned other issues. Cruz noted that the president said "not one word" about his executive action on immigration, which Cruz referred to as his "unconstitutional executive amnesty." Rubio spoke to reporters about his opposition to the president's decision to normalize relations with Cuba, something he's been vocal about since it was announced. Santorum said Obama's "only passing reference to national security" raised eyebrows.
Related: Obama Challenges New GOP Congress in SOTU Obama's State of the Union Speech Text as Prepared for Delivery Rand Paul’s Message: ‘Do No Harm’ In Foreign Affairs Rand Paul to Quote MLK, John Lewis in SOTU Response The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.