Sen. Rubio hits Obama on economy during GOP response

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) slammed President Obama on economic issues in the official Republican response to the State of the Union, calling for a renewed focus on the “free enterprise economy.”

Rubio, speaking from the Speaker’s conference room in the Capitol, argued that less government regulation and taxes will help grow the economy.

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Like Obama, Rubio sought to align his party with the middle class, using his family and his neighborhood to illustrate he and the GOP’s connection to middle-income households.

The speech was mostly delivered with force, but Rubio at times seemed nervous and cotton-mouthed, patting sweat off his temples a few times and awkwardly pausing to grab an off-camera bottle of water.

That sip caught fire on Twitter and television and may be what the speech is remembered for.

"It definitely appeared Sen. Rubio was a bit nervous at times, getting dry mouth and finally taking a drink of water," Fox News host Bret Baier said shortly after the speech. Rubio himself took to Twitter to joke about the moment,  tweeting a picture of the Poland Springs water bottle he'd drank from.

The speech itself focused on a forceful conservative rebuttal of Obama’s agenda, from taxes to entitlement 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. 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."

He also recorded a version of the speech in Spanish — the first time the State of the Union response was given in two languages.

While some in the GOP, including Rubio, have sought a softer, more positive tone since the election, the speech had plenty of jabs at the president.

Rubio attacked Obama for the sequester, his “obsession with raising taxes,” deficit spending and problems with “Obamacare,” mentioning his parents’ dependence on entitlement programs as why they need to be fixed.

“The biggest obstacles to balancing the budget are programs where spending is already locked in. One of these programs, Medicare, is especially important to me. It provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity. And it pays for the care my mother receives now.

"I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it,” he said. “Republicans have offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today’s retirees. Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the president going to offer his own detailed plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it."

Rubio also ripped Obama for offering “false choices between big government or big business.”

“His favorite attack of all is that those who don’t agree with him – they only care about rich people,” he said.

“Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. … 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. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. 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.”

Rubio called for a simplified tax code including a lower corporate tax rate, expanded production in all forms of energy, and a major overhaul in education. He also briefly touched on immigration, an issue he has been deeply involved with but has not found consensus within the GOP.

“We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws,” he said.