In recent years, the tea party has felt it necessary to provide a separate response to the president's State of the Union address from the traditional Republican response. This year, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was selected by the Tea Party Express to voice concerns within the movement in the official tea party response while Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) provided the GOP response.
The two senators, who were both elected in 2010 due to tea party support, offered similar criticisms of President Obama's policies. Citing his call for increased spending and taxes, Senator Rubio stated:
"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. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."
Senator Paul echoed these concerns:
"Even with the sequester, government will grow over $7 trillion over the next decade. Only in Washington could a $7 trillion increase in spending over a decade be called a cut...He [President Obama] says he wants a balanced approach. What we need is a balanced budget." Tweet quote: Tweet
The two responses were quite different, however, in terms of approach and vision. Senator Rubio's response was geared more towards defending the Republican Party's attempts to work with the Obama administration to no avail and that some government spending and programs, such as college tuition, were necessary. However, he added that these programs have been mismanaged and stressed the need to "strengthen and modernize" them.
Though he emphasized his opposition to raising taxes for fear that it would further weaken the economy, Sen. Rubio did not offer any specific measures he would endorse to counter the president's proposal of more tax increases.
Both senators mentioned the need for a balanced budget amendment but only Senator Paul proposed specifics on how he would actually seek to balance the budget, alluding to the one he proposed last year:
"Next month I will propose a five-year balanced budget, a budget that last year was endorsed by taxpayer groups across the country for its boldness and for actually solving the problem." Tweet quote: Tweet
Taking a more independent tone, the junior senator from Kentucky continued by accusing both parties of spending too much and debating the wrong things:
Every debate in Washington is about how to increase spending-a little or a lot. About how much to increase taxes-a little or a lot...
"...Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses. It is time for a new bipartisan consensus. 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." Tweet quote:Tweet
Senator Paul would go on to elaborate on his plan for balancing the budget in five years saying:
"With my five-year budget, millions of jobs would be created by cutting the corporate income tax in half, by creating a flat personal income tax of 17% and by cutting the regulations that are strangling American businesses."
Despite sharing a belief in less taxes and smaller government, Sen. Rubio presented a more ambiguous and reserved response to the president's State of the Union address than his colleague from Kentucky. Criticizing the president's call to stimulate the economy by raising taxes, Rubio said:
"...if we can get the economy to grow at just 4% a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. Tax increases can't do this...That's why I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy."
Sen. Paul was less hopeful for a change of heart in the president and more earnest in stressing the need for substantive cuts to spending and taxes in the near future, as well as balancing the budget sooner rather than later. He also channeled much of the tea party's sentiment in denouncing politicians of both parties who refuse to take steps to achieve such goals, calling for Americans to essentially "throw the bums out."
"And if Congress refuses to obey its own rules, if Congress refuses to pass a budget, if Congress refuses to read the bills, then I say: Sweep the place clean. Limit their terms and send them home!..If they will not listen, if they will not balance the budget, then we should limit their terms." Tweet quote:Tweet
The two tea party darlings also differed in their foreign policy views. Marco Rubio, said:
"On foreign policy, America continues to be indispensable to the goal of global liberty, prosperity and safeguarding human rights. The world is a better place when America is the strongest nation on earth. But we can’t remain powerful if we don’t have an economy that can afford it."
Rand Paul, in contrast, seemed to be less inclined to have the military "everywhere, all the time" as he mentioned in his foreign policy speech at The Heritage Foundation recently, and insisted military spending could be cut where he feels it's being used in counterproductive ventures without threatening the strength of our national defense:
"Where could we cut spending; well we could start with ending all foreign aid to countries that are burning our flag and chanting death to America. The president could begin by stopping the F-16s and Abrams tanks being given to the radical Islamic government of Egypt."
Both Senators Paul and Rubio owe winning their elections to tea party and conservative activists and each will no doubt play a pivotal role in shaping the GOP in the near future. There is already talk of both of these men being potential contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.