Florida Sen. Marco Rubio outlines his vision for economic growth

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in a file photo, speaks at the American Conservative Union Conference last week.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in a file photo, speaks at the American Conservative Union Conference last week.
(Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images / March 6, 2014)

WASHINGTON – With his standing among the conservative base still hobbled by his support for immigration reform, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has settled on a new course, staking his claim as a leader of the Republican Party’s wonk wing.

The latest example came in a speech Monday on how to boost America’s economic growth, in which Rubio argued that Washington needs new thinking to meet the challenges of a new economic age.

“As much as we innovate now, we could be doing even more,” Rubio said at a forum hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation at Google’s Washington headquarters. “Washington puts up a blockade of restrictions, regulations and taxes that prevent innovators from accessing the full range of opportunity offered by the American free enterprise system. But with new pro-innovation policies, we can collapse these barriers and open new pathways to accessing our 21st century economy.”

The first track Rubio outlined to drive economic growth was to ensure America remains at the forefront of innovation from the evolution of digital technologies. Access to the Internet was “central to human freedom,” Rubio said, adding that it should be a “national priority” to resist efforts to restrict it. He also called for expanding access to wireless Internet and boosting cooperation between federal research centers and the private sector.


He also called for expanding access to American goods through use of trade promotional authority and boosting energy production. Rubio also said he was working to develop a tax reform plan that would create added incentive for business to invest profits rather than “sitting on uninvested cash.” And he called for the establishment of an independent national board that would enforce a new limit on the economic cost of federal regulations, with the goal of limiting those he said are overly burdensome.

“We no longer have the luxury of wasting time on the failed promises of big government or the divisive rhetoric of class warfare,” Rubio said. “The world around us is changing quickly, and we have waited for far too long to change with it.

The setting for Monday’s speech was notable given how Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), his party’s budget guru, has often talked of how his views are grounded in his work with Jack Kemp. Rubio’s meaty address follows a January speech in which he outlined a conservative response to what he said was the failed liberal “War on Poverty” 50 years after it was launched by President Johnson. And speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Rubio focused his remarks on foreign policy, an area he conceded was not a priority at this point for activists.

“If you think that Obamacare is hurting our economy, it is,” he said, while adding that foreign policy issues also “have deep economic ramifications.”

The extent to which Rubio has suffered from his work on the immigration overhaul that passed the Senate last year was on display at CPAC -- he finished second in CPAC’s presidential straw poll in 2013 with 23% support, but slid to seventh place in this year’s with just 6%.

Asked Monday about how immigration reform figures into his vision, Rubio said an overhaul to the legal immigration system “could help our economy grow,” but that deciding the “consequences” for the 12 million who have come to the U.S. illegally “has been a challenge, politically, to work through.”

“I do believe that if we can reform our legal immigration system, and if we can improve and put in place a better enforcement mechanism, I think it will become a lot easier – not easy, but easier – to address that problem,” he said.
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