On entitlements, Rubio said the programs need to be reformed to preserve them for future generations — an effort to address the charge from Democrats that the GOP is looking to drastically change the programs. He insisted that, because his own father and mother relied on Medicare, he did not want to undermine it for future generations. And he defended GOP efforts to rewrite the program.
“Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today’s retirees,” Rubio said. “Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the president going to offer his plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it.”
Other Senate Republicans questioned the costs of Obama’s proposals, but two former governors now serving in the Senate brought up education provisions as an example of programs worthy of review.
Asked about the cost of the various domestic proposals in the speech, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chuckled and said, “It sounded very expensive.” But he reserved serious judgement until he had a chance to review proposals in detail.
“I want to show the president the respect of studying what he proposed carefully” on education, he said.
North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven also said he’d give the president a chance. “I want to look at his program regarding colleges where he talks about ‘bang for the buck,’” Hoeven said. “I think our schools in North Dakota give an incredible bang for the buck, but the biggest concern I have is he talks about — you know — more spending, more government as a solution to get the economy going, and that’s not the right approach.”
Likewise, several on the GOP side said positive things about infrastructure spending while questioning the funding source.
“I like the idea of fixing bridges,” Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska said. “Beyond that — it was a political speech.”
Johanns, another former governor, didn’t think the math would add up on the spending side without piling on additional debt. “I just can’t imagine how he gets there with program after program after program that doesn’t add to the deficit,” he said. A central tenet of the president’s speech was that he would find a way to make sure his proposals would not add to the deficit.
“I personally think an investment in infrastructure does make a lot of sense and would help to create jobs and improve our economy” Republican Sen. Susan Collins said. “But the president’s speech was very light on details for even a program like that that I would be inclined to support.
“I thought that the president avoided a lot of the tough choices that are going to have to be made. I do agree with him that we cannot allow sequestration to go into effect,” the Maine Senator added. “So, I hope that his call for us to work together is one that will be followed up with action and that it wasn’t just words tonight.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.