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Friday, December 8, 2023

Rubio’s ‘new ideas’ are recycled old ones

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio launched a Republican presidential campaign this week with a promise to reject “the leaders and ideas of the past.”

It was a not-so-subtle jab from a 43-year-old fresh-faced, senator at his likely 2016 competitors, Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton, whose families were cemented as political dynasties in the 1990s. A closer look at Rubio’s early priorities, however, suggests that many of his policy prescriptions were born in the same era he’s vowing to leave behind.

Moreover, he confused his opening argument by comparing today’s taxes and government spending to 1999, the year Bush took office as Florida governor and Bill Clinton was president.

A look at a few facts behind his rhetoric:

RUBIO: “Too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century.”

THE FACTS: On foreign policy, taxes and government spending, many of Rubio’s policies are rooted in Republican positions from the 1990s or even earlier.

Foreign policy stands out in particular for Rubio, who embraces the same muscular approach that dominated the Reagan and last Bush administrations.

While some conservatives now favor a reduced international footprint, Rubio has shown an appetite for pre-emptive military action against the Islamic State group and has not ruled out ground forces. He has also become Congress’ leading opponent of Obama’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba. The senator said in a Tuesday interview that the United States should not open an embassy on the island and should continue its longstanding policy that has isolated Cuba since the early 1960s.

On spending, Rubio has repeatedly endorsed a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. Republican calls for such an amendment persisted throughout the Clinton years in the late 1990s after being embraced by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Rubio is also calling for sweeping changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security to control government spending. While the push for “premium supports” to control Medicare costs was born this century, pieces of Rubio’s plans to change Social Security are decades old. Specifically, he would repeal the “earnings test” for anyone who claims Social Security before full retirement age but keeps working.

The GOP’s 1992 platform outlined the same position. Rubio also wants to raise the retirement age, something George W. Bush suggested as a presidential candidate before the 2000 election.

On taxes, Rubio recently proposed a comprehensive plan that would maintain a 35-percent rate for top earners, but reduce taxes on corporations and eliminate the capital gains tax altogether. He departs from a long-held GOP position that the rate for top earners should be lower. But calls for reduced corporate and capital gains taxes dominated the GOP’s tax platform throughout the 1990s.

On education, Rubio says the nation needs “a 21st century approach” to education. He supports an expansion of digital and online courses as part of a larger focus on school choice. The technology may be new, but calls for school choice are not. Republicans throughout the 1990s wanted to give parents more educational choices.

Rubio this week said more high school students need to graduate “ready to work” in jobs such as mechanics, plumbers and welders. For decades, political leaders — including Jeb Bush during his time as Florida governor — have promoted stronger vocational education.


RUBIO: “Our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.”

THE FACTS: While Rubio was surely trying to have fun with a popular Prince song, he’s wrong to liken the government’s current taxing and borrowing to that of 1999.

The nation’s national debt was in far better shape at that time, when the federal government carried budget surpluses during the final years of the Clinton presidency. Taxes were far higher in 1999 as well. Tax revenues then exceeded 19 percent as a percentage of the gross domestic product compared with 17.5 percent in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Today’s lower taxes come from Bush-era tax cuts and President Barack Obama’s decision to extend them permanently.

An occasional look at claims by public officials that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story.


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