Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday said President Obama’s “obsession with raising taxes” and excessive spending is strangling the economy, and called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution while delivering the Republican response to the State of the Union.
Moments after Mr. Obama’s nationally televised defense of his vision of a broader federal government, Mr. Rubio took to the airwaves to tell listeners — in English and then Spanish — that the president’s fiscal approach is hurting the middle-class families living in the working-class Florida neighborhood he calls home.
“It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security,” Mr. Rubio said.
“So, 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.”
Sen. Rand Paul weighed in minutes later on behalf of the Tea Party Express, blaming both parties for the nation’s fiscal woes, and saying that Congress must accept cuts to defense and domestic programs — including the impending $85 billion “sequester” — if it is serious about getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
“Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses,” Mr. Paul said. “It is time for a new bipartisan consensus. 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.”
Together, the two responses highlighted the lack of a single-party representative and underscored the continuing tension within the Republican Party, with tea party insurgents often unsatisfied with the direction charted by the GOP leaders.
The fissures have been on display on Capitol Hill, where House Speaker John A. Boehner stripped a few conservatives from powerful House committee assignments late last year.
Since then, some conservatives have butted heads with leadership over bills that increased taxes on the nation’s top earners, authorized $60 billion in emergency Superstorm Sandy funding and allowed the government to borrow as much money as it needs through mid-May without offsets elsewhere in the budget.
The latter move, however, hinged on Senate Democrats agreeing to pass a federal budget for the first time in four years — setting the table for another round of high-stakes fights in the coming weeks over the automatic “sequester” cuts to defense and domestic programs, the overall level of government spending and the soaring nation’s national debt, which is nearing $16.5 trillion.
Following the president’s address, Mr. Boehner said Mr. Obama had an opportunity to address the nation’s “spending problem” and “let it slip by.”
“Tonight, he offered them little more than more of the same ‘stimulus’ policies that have failed to fix our economy and put Americans back to work. We cannot grow the middle class and foster job creation by growing government and raising taxes,” the Ohio Republican said.
Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, panned the speech, saying Mr. Obama “chose to retread the same failed agenda that has divided our country and handcuffed our economy throughout his entire presidency.”
In his address, Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to back an increase in the federal minimum wage and a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. The Democrat said deficit reduction should be achieved through a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes on the wealthy.
In his response, Mr. Rubio accused Mr. Obama of laying out “false choices,” including the notion that balancing the federal budget requires people to choose between “higher taxes or dramatic benefit cuts for those in need.”