By Cameron Joseph - 12/05/12 03:28 AM EST
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), two potential 2016 presidential candidates, gave speeches Tuesday night, laying out visions of a GOP focused on upward mobility.
The two GOP stars spoke at the Jack Kemp Foundation’s Leadership Award Dinner — Rubio was this year’s honoree, while Ryan, last year’s award winner, delivered the keynote address.
“I'll see you at the reunion dinner, table for two. You know any good diners in New Hampshire or Iowa?” Ryan joked to Rubio during his speech. “I’m sure the press won’t read too much into that.”
Rubio shot back later with a smile, saying that he appreciated the offer, but “will not stand by and watch the people of South Carolina ignored.”
Both men focused on economic mobility during their remarks, channeling former Rep. Jack Kemp’s (R-N.Y.) lifelong focus on how free markets could help the poor.
Many Republicans see that focus as key in helping the party improve an image marred by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s perceived elitism and his infamous “47 percent” remark, which the two men subtly rebuked during their speeches.
Rubio echoed that sentiment.
“Some say that our problem is that the American people have changed, that too many people want things from government,” he said. “But I am still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had: A chance, a real chance to earn a good living, and provide even better opportunities for their children.”
Ryan said that Kemp, for whom he worked and considers a mentor, “hated the idea that any part of America could be written off” and argued that the Republican Party needs “a vision for bringing opportunity into every life – one that promotes strong families, secure livelihoods, and an equal chance for every American to fulfill their highest aspirations for themselves and their children.
“Our party excels at representing that part of the American idea that speaks to the aspirations of our nation’s risk-takers,” he said. “But there's another part of the American creed: When our neighbors are suffering we look out for them.”
Ryan continued that lawmakers “must come together and advance new strategies for lifting people out of poverty.”
Rubio, name-checking Ryan often during his speech, sounded a similar theme. He told of his immigrant parents who came to America with nothing, and said without the economic mobility he said was unique to America he would just have become a “very opinionated bartender.”
“One of the fundamental promises of America is the opportunity to make it to the middle class. But today, there is a growing opportunity gap developing — and millions of Americans worry that they may never achieve middle-class prosperity and stability and that their children will be trapped as well with the same life and the same problems,” Rubio said before calling for an “appropriate and sustainable role for government in closing this gap between the dreams of millions of Americans and the opportunities for them to actually realize them.”
Rubio said his opposition to tax increases on wealthier families proposed by President Obama “isn’t about protecting millionaires and billionaires,” adding that the increases wouldn’t do much to fix the national debt and “would hurt middle class businesses and the people who work for them.”