WASHINGTON — Republicans warned Tuesday that President Barack Obama's second-term agenda would bring more tax increases and escalate deficit spending, vowing that they would guard against Washington-centric policies and help middle-class families rebound from years of tepid economic growth.
Republicans responded to Obama's State of the Union address with fresh appeals to voters on the economy, promises to rein in federal spending and address the future of entitlement programs like Medicare. The party sought to portray itself as an alternative source of policies to grow the economy after the president swept to re-election last November.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, delivering the Republican response, urged Obama to "abandon his obsession with raising taxes" and said the president had shifted the nation away from free-market economic principles that had helped middle-class families achieve prosperity.
"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," Rubio said.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, in a separate tea party response, said both parties had failed voters by driving up trillion-dollar deficits. "Washington acts in a way that your family never could — they spend money they do not have, they borrow from future generations, and then they blame each other for never fixing the problem," Paul said in prepared remarks.
Rubio appeared to wipe away sweat during his rebuttal from the Speaker's conference room in the U.S. Capitol. At one point, he reached out with his left hand and took a small swig from a Poland Spring water bottle. As the incident generated heavy attention on Twitter, Rubio later tweeted a photo of the water bottle.
Republicans sought to characterize Obama as overly reliant on government, even as the president made his case to the nation that he could generate new jobs without raising the federal deficit. Defending his policies against GOP critics, Obama said the nation needed a "smarter government" instead of a bigger one and pledged to increase federal spending to fix roads and bridges and boost the minimum wage.
Both Obama's address to Congress and the Republican responses around the Capitol sought to position each party as the champion of average Americans in a nation still grappling with high unemployment and a slow economic recovery. Republicans noted that the nation's jobless rate ticked up to 7.9 percent in January and the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the final months of 2012.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama offered the American people "little more than more of the same 'stimulus' policies that have failed to fix our economy and put Americans back to work. We cannot grow the middle class and foster job creation by growing government and raising taxes."
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman accused Obama of promoting "the same big-government policies that have failed to get our economy up and running again."
Rubio, a rising star in the Republican party and a potential 2016 presidential contender, pointed to his Miami roots to address Obama's frequent portrayal of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — and his party — as only caring about the wealthiest Americans. Rubio said he still lived in the "same working-class neighborhood I grew up in" and his neighbors "aren't millionaires" but retirees, workers and immigrants.
"His favorite attack of all is that those who don't agree with him — that we only care about rich people," Rubio said.
Rubio pre-recorded the same speech in Spanish for Spanish-language networks, a nod to Republicans who have said that they must address their deficit with Hispanic voters in order to compete effectively with Democrats in the future. Obama won 71 percent of Hispanics last year against Romney.