But excerpts released a few hours ahead of Obama’s speech to Congress and Rubio’s nationally broadcast follow-up broke little ground from what has been GOP orthodoxy since the 41-year-old lawmaker was in grade school.
He sounded familiar anti-Washington themes, accused Obama of overspending and over-taxing, and renewed calls for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and an overhaul of the Medicare and Social Security programs.
“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 in his prepared remarks. “It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs.
“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.”
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, emphasized his working-class background, a notable -- if subtle -- contrast with the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, the very wealthy Mitt Romney. He lives in the same west Miami neighborhood where he grew up, Rubio said, surrounded by immigrants and people who get up early and “go to work to pay the bills.”
“My neighbors aren’t millionaires,” he said. Many are retirees reliant on Social Security and Medicare. His mother and late father, Rubio said, also benefited from the government-run healthcare plan.
Still, he said, its path is unsustainable and needs changing.
“Anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now is in favor of bankrupting it,” Rubio said in the excerpted remarks, though no specifics were mentioned.
The speech represents a national debut of sorts for Rubio, whose youth, Latino heritage and swing-state pedigree make him a leading presidential prospect for the struggling GOP. He planned to deliver his response in English and in a prerecorded version in Spanish, for a Latino audience.