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Rubio softens Republican tone in Obama reply

US Senator Marco Rubio tries to shed party's image as defender of the rich during reply to State of the Union address.
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2013 09:11
Rubio said taxing the rich will stymie job creation - negatively affecting the middle class [Reuters]

Seeking to help the Republican party shed its image as a defender of the rich, Florida Senator Marco Rubio stressed his working-class upbringing, yet opposed taxing the rich, during his response to President Obama's State of the Union address.

Obama said on Tuesday that the country cannot get on the path to prosperity just by cutting government spending, as Republicans demand, while Rubio warned that Washington cannot tax its way to economic growth.

"His solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more," Rubio said.

"I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich ... I want to protect my [middle class] neighbours."

- Senator Marco Rubio

The senator indicated that tax increases, even if focused on the wealthy, can wind up affecting middle-class areas such as his neighbourhood in Miami because high taxes can stymie job creation.

"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 neighbours," Rubio said in calling for low taxes and less government spending and regulation - policies he said would boost economic growth.

In a speech that was notably more partisan than the president's, Rubio belittled the accomplishments of Obama's first term, including the healthcare overhaul that Republicans derisively call "Obamacare".

For Rubio, 41, the speech represented a potential star-making moment at a time when Republicans are desperate to reach out to the nation's fast-growing Latino population, which voted overwhelmingly for Obama and Democrats in the November elections.

The senator is widely viewed as a potential contender for the presidency in 2016 and the stakes of the address seemed evident at times.

Rubio appeared to wipe away sweat from his temples several times during his 15-minute speech, and seemed to struggle with what later became known on Twitter as "dry mouth moments".

At one point he made an awkward reach for a water bottle that nearly pulled him out of range of the television camera.

'Modest roots'

Rubio's emphasis on his modest roots - his Cuban-born father and mother came to the US in the 1950s and worked as a bartender and hotel maid - signalled that the Republicans are now trying to relate to voters in a way that eluded Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee.

Following Romney's defeat, Republicans have scrambled to portray their party as more tolerant of the concerns of Latinos and the middle class - and promoting Rubio is a big part of that strategy.

Search through US president's annual policy addresses

"He's young and Hispanic. This is a party that's just been creamed in terms of appealing to ethnics of any sort," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In an attempt to blunt criticisms that Republicans want to balance budgets by gutting social safety net programs, Rubio noted that the Medicare healthcare programme for the elderly and disabled "is especially important to me".

The senator, who won election to the US Congress in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party successes that stressed smaller government, said Medicare "provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity".

But he criticised Obama and Democrats for not seeking savings in such social programmes.

"Anyone who is in favour of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now is in favour of bankrupting it," Rubio said.

More broadly, Rubio called for a pared-down federal government, drawing some sharp contrasts with Obama's speech, which called for the new government jobs programmes and infrastructure investments that the president said would "reignite" the middle class and create new jobs.

On Tuesday, Rubio voted against renewing the "Violence Against Women Act" that passed the Senate 78-22 with only Republicans in opposition.

Even with his conservative voting record, Rubio has managed to position himself as somewhat of a moderate in his home state of Florida.

That could help him appeal to a broad range of voters if he decides to wage a campaign for president in 2016.

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Source:
Agencies
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