POLITICS / ANALYSIS

Sen. Marco Rubio plays tag team with Sen. Ted Cruz in slamming Obamacare on Senate floor

 
 
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to an aide as he arrives for the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon September 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to an aide as he arrives for the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon September 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Timing is everything in politics. Eloquent speaking ain’t bad, either.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is adept at both.

And at 6 a.m. Wednesday, just as most people were waking up on the East Coast and just in time for the morning news programs, Rubio took to the Senate floor to relieve Sen. Ted Cruz quasi-filibuster over Obamacare.

For nearly an hour, as the semi-filibuster entered its 16th hour, Rubio spoke without notes and gave a standard but impassioned stump speech that hopped from the American Dream to broken schools to free enterprise to Obamacare to debt. In tone and style, it recalled the spirit of Rubio’s childhood hero, Ronald Reagan, and his “Morning in America” television ad.

But Rubio wasn’t all positive. He says Obamacare is a disaster, and that moves like Cruz’s are needed to draw attention to it.

“Here comes Obamacare,” Rubio said. “Now SeaWorld has announced, instead of 32 hours we’re going to move you to 28 hours. That’s real money. That is real money...

“All the uncertainty created by this healthcare law, Obamacare....Is it making America the easiest place or an easier place to start a business? No. Does Obamacare make it easier to grow an existing business? Absolutely not," Rubio said. "Does Obamacare encourage innovation in the marketplace? Of course not. On the contrary, it undermines innovation in medicine."

But at the same time Rubio was speaking about the ills of Obamacare, there’s another side to the story that the Obama Administration is trying to tell: Affordable health insurance is available to people who couldn’t get it.

And the places where people are least likely to get it are in the home states of Cruz (Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, at more than 25 percent) and Rubio (Florida has the second-highest rate, at just below 25 percent).

But there’s always a but.

What the federal government has yet to reveal is how much more those currently insured will pay out of pocket under the new system.

It’s tough to compare because Obamacare changed rules about insurance coverage, so pre-Obamacare plans aren’t completely comparable to current ones.

Still, they have this common denominator: Money. People (those 75 percent who are insured) will have to pay something. How much more (likely) or less?

Also, it’s not as if healthcare costs haven’t skyrocketed by double-digits for years before Obamacare. So how much are health-insurance increases Obamacare’s fault? Time will tell as the new individual policies go online Oct. 1.

As for Rubio, he was Florida’s House Speaker, and during his time in office he did relatively little about affordable health insurance as the state’s rate of the uninsured remained high. Rubio did pass a plan that called for exchange-like marketplaces to help out businesses and individuals. And he did at the time question then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s "Cover Florida" plan that offered stripped-down health insurance for a stripped-down price.

So Rubio didn’t like that. He doesn’t like Obamacare, either.

Then, as now, Rubio was one of the best speakers Florida political scene ever had. It’s one of many reasons he bested Charlie Crist in the 2010 Senate race and chased Crist out of the Republican Party. And it’s one of the reasons that liberals like Van Jones say Democrats fear Rubio, who’s laying the groundwork for a 2016 White House bid.

Consider this Rubio riff at 6:15 a.m.: “... children that are born into broken families, living in substandard housing in dangerous neighborhoods, with no access to healthcare, with a difficulty accessing good schools — these kids have five strikes against them. They are going to struggle to make it.”

Rubio also turned the argument on Obamacare against liberals. He said that, like most “big government" programs, Obamacare isn’t a problem for corporations who can hire lawyers and lobbyists to game the system. It hurts the little guy, Rubio said.

Another benefit for Rubio: far-right conservatives were cheering him for standing with Cruz and speaking so well. It was a good way for Rubio to put more time and distance between himself and the bipartisan immigration bill he helped pass and that cost him tea-party points.

On the Senate floor, Rubio addressed the importance of health insurance to immigrants and, especially, Hispanics. It’s an important issue in a state like Florida where as many as 35 percent of Hispanics (who account for 23 percent of the population and 14 percent of the voter rolls) are uninsured.

Rubio noted that pro-Obamacare ads are running on Spanish-language TV.

"It’s enticing," he said of ads that promise cheap and nearly free insurance. "But that’s not what going to happen." He said workers will get their hours cut and they’ll get poor insurance.

"Not only are they going to be upset," Rubio said. "They’re going to be livid."

For Miami viewers (assuming they were up at 6 a.m. watching C-SPAN), the speeches of Rubio and, especially, Cruz were remarkable for another reason: Both are sons of Cuban exiles. Along with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, Cuban-Americans are the only Hispanics in the U.S. Senate.

Said Cruz to Rubio: "You inspire me."

But if they run against each other for president, will that still be true?

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