Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rubio casts Obama as hurting middle class

Sen. Marco Rubio cast President Obama on Tuesday night as a barrier to free enterprise with an "obsession" about raising taxes, as he outlined the Republican vision for helping the middle class.

Rubio, a Florida senator, delivered the official Republican response to Obama's State of the Union in both English and Spanish. The Tea Party favorite spoke in personal terms about the impact of government programs such as Medicare on his life and those of his neighbors.

MORE: Rubio's sip of water lights up Twitter

"Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood where I grew up. My neighbors aren't millionaires," Rubio said. "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."

He chastised Obama for offering proposals that represent big government, such as the nation's health care law. "More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back," Rubio said, arguing that the Constitution put limits on government for a reason.

Rubio specifically called for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and urged both parties to work together to solve the nation's economic woes.

"Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America," Rubio will say. "If we can get our economic healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation for responsible for America's decline."

Rubio is the latest in a string of rising Republican stars to give the high-profile rebuttal to Obama on national television. The senator's speech came as Rubio plays a leadership role in bipartisan efforts to revamp the nation's immigration system, including a plan to give the 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citzenship.

"We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally," he said. "But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."

After Rubio's speech, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivered a response on behalf of the Tea Party and sounded themes popular with the small-government, anti-tax movement.

"It is time for a new bipartisan consensus," Paul said. "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."

Former White House speechwriters said before the speeches that Rubio needed to deliver sound bites and speak to GOP goals, without looking as though he was advancing his own political ambitions.

Yet the hype surrounding Rubio — hailed by Time magazine as a "savior" of the Republican Party and labeled by GOP strategist Karl Rove as the party's "best communicator since Ronald Reagan" — posed a challenge.

"Rubio has broadly the instinct for talking about the greatness of this country," said Clark Judge, a former Reagan speechwriter and managing director of the White House Writers Group, a communications firm. "We don't know yet if he has the depth in policy or philosophy."

Few responses to the State of the Union Address live on in history. Senate GOP leader Bob Dole in 1994 was memorable because he used an elaborate flow chart to counter President Clinton's pitch to revamp the nation's health care system. That chart came to symbolize what Republicans saw as the bureaucratic morass that would come from Clinton's health care proposal.

On the flip side, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is remembered in a negative way for his 2009 response to Obama because he was stiff and his prose was described in news reports as "cheesy." It took awhile for Jindal, also heralded as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, to recover from his debut on a national stage.

"The odds are greater that you're going to disappoint people," said Jeff Shesol, who helped write Bill Clinton's 1999 and 2000 State of the Union speeches. "This is a dangerous speech for Rubio to give in terms of his personal political future and because he is seen as the principal Republican rebrander. " 

Monday, February 4, 2013

3 Lessons From Obama's Cliff Victories for Immigration Push

When President Obama delivers the first State of the Union address of his second term next Tuesday, he will be riding a wave of political victories into the coral lined shores of the United States Congress. A tumble into the rough waters of legislative gridlock in the months ahead could cause major damage to the president's second term legislative agenda. There are several lessons from Obama's political wins on the fiscal cliff that both sides should keep in mind when working on immigration legislation and other legislative initiatives.

1. Have a simple, effective pitch: After the knock down drag out fight over raising the debt ceiling in 2011, Obama's team realized they needed a more effective message for future fiscal fights. By characterizing the Republican reluctance to raise the debt limit as akin to refusing to pay for goods already placed on the credit card, Obama had a kitchen table explanation for a complex macroeconomic issue. A similar approach to a comprehensive immigration bill, which due to its size and scope will contain something unpalatable for both parties, will be essential to avoid a death by 1,000 cuts.

2. Seek the support of the opposition's traditional allies: Obama shrewdly courted corporate America, holding meetings with executives whose bottom lines would be adversely affected by another debt limit standoff. These traditional Republican supporters were able to convey the urgency of the issue to the GOP better than anyone else. It's always easier to take advice from a friend than a foe. The president should reach out to business leaders -- who would have much to gain from the certainty that an immigration deal could provide -- again to help sell a plan. Republicans should approach the immigration debate with as an opportunity to reach out to Asians and Hispanics that have trended heavily towards supporting Democrats.

3. Exploit unforced errors: Intransigent Republicans in the House derailed Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" fiscal proposal, which substantially limited the leverage the party had in discussions over a final solution. That meant that the final deal went even further to the left and needed overwhelming Democratic support in the House to prevent an economic disaster. That served to weaken the strong fiscally responsible economic image Republicans had burnished in previous debates. Republicans need a deal, and Obama should try to work with them. While one side exploiting the other's fumble may again be decisive, a keen focus by both sides on minimizing mistakes and misstatements would allow each to bring their best to the effort of passing immigration reform.

Getting a deal on immigration will be tougher than the fiscal cliff (there is not a credit downgrade or economic meltdown at stake and thus less incentive to deal), but it is still possible if both President Obama and the Republicans learn from past successes, do not repeat missteps and seek to truly make this a win-win effort.