In a stark display of the ideological divide between the parties, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged the president to rein in spending and reduce the size of government in order to grow the economy.
“Presidents in both parties — from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan — have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity,” Rubio said in the Republican response to the State of the Union address.
“But President Obama? 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.”
A potential 2016 presidential candidate, Rubio appeared nervous during the English version of his speech and suffered from dry mouth. At one point, he leaned off camera to grab a water bottle. Rubio also delivered the response in Spanish.
Echoing Reagan, Rubio, who was in the running to be GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate, argued that government is the problem, not the solution.
“The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle-class taxpayers — that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried,” Rubio said.
In his speech, President Barack Obama tried to get ahead of that criticism, saying he did not want to expand the size of government, but wanted to make government set “smarter” priorities.
Rubio also defended the GOP leadership’s position on the sequester, which is set to go into effect on March 1. The president and Democrats have called for a package of revenue and spending cuts to delay more than $100 billion of those cuts, which both sides agree would hurt the economy and increase unemployment.
“We don’t have to raise taxes to avoid the president’s devastating cuts to our military,” Rubio said. “Republicans have passed a plan that replaces these cuts with responsible spending reforms.”
For economic growth, Rubio recommended simplifying the tax code, opening up more federal lands for oil and gas exploration and reducing energy regulations.
He took issue with accusations from the president and Democrats that the GOP is intransigent and resists tax increases only to protect the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor.
“There are valid reasons to be concerned about the president’s plan to grow our government,” Rubio said. “But any time anyone opposes the president’s agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.”
Rubio said he believes tax increases will “hurt middle-class families” by making businesses cut back on salary increases, benefits and even overall employment positions.
“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,” Rubio said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.