There wasn’t much in the way of substance to distinguish Marco Rubio’s official Republican response to the State of the Union Address from the Tea Party response by Rubio’s Senate colleague, Rand Paul. Both were delivered by potential 2016 presidential nominees who entered the Senate on a wave of grassroots support in 2010. Both senators offered conservative rebuttals to President Obama’s stridently pro-government address. But while Rubio focused on his own personal story as an example of the Republican vision for the country, Paul’s speech was more ideological, recalling more explicitly the spirit of the Tea Party movement that began nearly four years ago.
“Demand Washington change their ways or be sent home,” Paul implored citizens.
In the speech, delivered at the National Press Club in Washington and broadcast live on the Internet, the Kentucky Republican looked back to 18th century thinkers. “What America needs is not Robin Hood, but Adam Smith,” Paul said. Later, he paraphrased Montesquieu: “There can be no liberty when the executive branch and the legislative branch are combined.”
The address provided a short list of specific policy goals—a Tea Party platform for Obama’s second term. Topping the list was a balanced budget amendment, and its corollary was a Paul-sponsored plan to balance the budget within five years. To achieve this, he suggested, among other things, ending all foreign aid to countries that “burn our flag,” particularly in the Middle East. Both parties, he charged, have contributed to the exploding deficit. Paul criticized his fellow Republicans who he said ought to realize that “military spending is not immune to waste.” He also knocked Obama for the fact that the president’s proposed 2013 budget did not receive a single vote of support in Congress last year and that Senate Democrats haven’t even produced a budget in years.
"Washington acts in a way that your family never could,” he said. “They spend money they do not have, they borrow from future generations, and then they blame each other for never fixing the problem.”
Paul also spoke about the GOP as a party of growth, advocating for a tax reform plan that would cut the corporate income tax in half and institute a flat income tax. He said Congress should oppose raising taxes on any more Americans and took on the view that more government spending will fuel economic growth. Speaking directly to those citizens at the bottom end of the economic scale, Paul was blunt. “The president offers you free stuff,” he said, “but his policies keep you poor.”
Paul touched on other domestic issues in the abstract, from immigration (“we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future”) to education (“school choice for everyone”). He advocated, too, for a less stringent federal regulatory regime.