WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio cast President Obama on Tuesday night as a barrier to free enterprise with an "obsession" about raising taxes, as he outlined the Republican vision for helping the middle class.
Rubio, a Florida senator, delivered the official Republican response to Obama's State of the Union in both English and Spanish. The Tea Party favorite spoke in personal terms about the impact of government programs such as Medicare on his life and those of his neighbors.
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"Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood where I grew up. My neighbors aren't millionaires," Rubio said. "The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose 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."
He chastised Obama for offering proposals that represent big government, such as the nation's health care law. "More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back," Rubio said, arguing that the Constitution put limits on government for a reason.
Rubio specifically called for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and urged both parties to work together to solve the nation's economic woes.
"Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America," Rubio will say. "If we can get our economic healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation for responsible for America's decline."
Rubio is the latest in a string of rising Republican stars to give the high-profile rebuttal to Obama on national television. The senator's speech came as Rubio plays a leadership role in bipartisan efforts to revamp the nation's immigration system, including a plan to give the 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citzenship.
"We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally," he said. "But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."
After Rubio's speech, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivered a response on behalf of the Tea Party and sounded themes popular with the small-government, anti-tax movement.
"It is time for a new bipartisan consensus," Paul said. "It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud."
Former White House speechwriters said before the speeches that Rubio needed to deliver sound bites and speak to GOP goals, without looking as though he was advancing his own political ambitions.
Yet the hype surrounding Rubio - hailed by Time magazine as a "savior" of the Republican Party and labeled by GOP strategist Karl Rove as the party's "best communicator since Ronald Reagan" - posed a challenge.
"Rubio has broadly the instinct for talking about the greatness of this country," said Clark Judge, a former Reagan speechwriter and managing director of the White House Writers Group, a communications firm. "We don't know yet if he has the depth in policy or philosophy."
Few responses to the State of the Union Address live on in history. Senate GOP leader Bob Dole in 1994 was memorable because he used an elaborate flow chart to counter President Clinton's pitch to revamp the nation's health care system. That chart came to symbolize what Republicans saw as the bureaucratic morass that would come from Clinton's health care proposal.
On the flip side, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is remembered in a negative way for his 2009 response to Obama because he was stiff and his prose was described in news reports as "cheesy." It took awhile for Jindal, also heralded as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, to recover from his debut on a national stage.
"The odds are greater that you're going to disappoint people," said Jeff Shesol, who helped write Bill Clinton's 1999 and 2000 State of the Union speeches. "This is a dangerous speech for Rubio to give in terms of his personal political future and because he is seen as the principal Republican rebrander. "
Catalina Camia, USA TODAY