WASHINGTON -- In English and Spanish, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday night delivered a scathing rebuke of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, signaling a Republican battle for middle-class voters that could help re-energize his party and also propel a potential 2016 White House run.
The Florida senator delivered his party’s official rebuttal to Obama’s speech, but he wasn’t the only Republican responding Tuesday night. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another potential Republican presidential contender, responded to Obama’s talk on behalf of the tea party.
Rubio challenged Obama’s commitment to preserving and growing the nation’s middle class by expanding the role of the federal government and raising taxes on wealthy earners.
“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 prepared remarks. “But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. . . . 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 told viewers that he is firmly planted in the middle class, a legacy from his bartender father and a mother who worked as a cashier and maid, who came from Cuba “in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at even a better one.”
“Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in,” he said. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They are retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.”
He added: “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.”
At one point Rubio paused for a quick sip of water. He went on to assert that Obama’s proposals will hurt middle-class families, cost jobs and harm senior citizens because they do “nothing to save Medicare and Social Security.”
“In order to balance our budget, the choice doesn’t have to be either higher taxes or dramatic benefit cuts for those in need,” he said. “Instead we should grow our economy so that we create new taxpayers, not new taxes, and so our government can afford to help those who truly cannot help themselves.”
While Obama implored Congress to vote on gun control legislation, Rubio acknowledged “the rise of violence in our country,” but he warned against weakening the Second Amendment.
Rubio said that if the economy could grow by 4 percent a year, the nation could create more jobs and reduce the deficit by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade. He proposed doing so by, in part, encouraging growth in the energy industry including solar, wind, coal, oil and natural gas.
He agreed with Obama on the need to fix Medicare in a way that doesn’t harm senior citizens.
“It provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity,” he said. “And it pays for the care my mother receives now. 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.”