Republican Sen. Marco Rubio delivered his party's official counterpoint to President Barack Obama's State of the Union message, diametrically at odds with Obama.
Where Obama vowed to grow the middle class by increasing spending and taxes, Rubio countered that such an approach would hurt, not help, middle-class families. Instead, said the Florida senator, the nation should adopt low-tax, free-market policies to stimulate the economy and cut government spending while reducing the deficit.
"This opportunity — to make it to the middle class or beyond, no matter where you start out in life - it isn't bestowed on us from Washington," Rubio said. "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. But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems."
"My neighbors aren't millionaires," Rubio said. "They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills."
Rubio, the son of working-class Cuban immigrants who has been touted as a possible presidential candidate, likened the president's proposals to practices in countries from which immigrants fled to come to America. Immigrants, he said, "came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy. The tax increases and the deficit spending [Obama] propose[s] will hurt middle-class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs."
The president's policies additionally will "hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security," Rubio said.
"So, Mr. President," he said, "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."
The New York Times this week noted a change in President Obama's attitude since reelection: "[L]ike his bold inaugural address ... he has shown an assertiveness, self-possession, even cockiness" unlike during his first term. Rubio's address, seen and heard immediately following the president's, revealed the first-term senator to be personable and at ease.
Obama had four years for his approach to work, yet Americans on food stamps have increased from 31 million to 47 million, more than the population of Spain. More than 8 million Americans dropped out of the workforce during Mr. Obama's first term. If they had not, January's unemployment rate would have been 10.4 percent, rather than 7.9 percent. The national debt increased 60 percent during that time, and many indebted college graduates find scant job prospects.
As the full costs of the Affordable Care Act are only beginning to be understood, the nation has moved no closer to averting the increasing fiscal pressure on Medicare and Social Security, for which the president has offered no remedy.
President Obama would do well to examine Sen. Rubio's words about less taxing and spending, and act accordingly to boost, rather than further hamper, economic prosperity in the coming four years.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER