WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, continuing to move past last year's damaging immigration debate and sounding ever more like a presidential candidate, on Monday outlined ideas to spur economic growth, including giving private companies control over the nation's wireless capability.
"Wireless spectrum now serves the same role as roads and highways. It is a critical means of conducting commerce and getting our products to market," he said from the Washington offices of Google, referring to the airwaves that carry wireless signals. "And if spectrum is the highway of the digital age, we know that that highway is getting crowded and traffic will only continue to get worse."
Rubio said he will file legislation that would reallocate 200 MHz of spectrum controlled by the federal government for commercial wireless services, claiming it would "create thousands of jobs."
Rubio, R-Fla., also proposed a "National Regulatory Budget," that would limit what federal regulations could be imposed on business. "This would force federal agencies to enact only those regulations that truly serve an essential role," he said.
He called for cutting the corporate tax rate, repealing the Affordable Care Act and encouraging an "interstate energy pipeline" paid for by the private sector, as long as there are not regulatory hurdles. He added his voice to those who want to end the decades-old ban on crude-oil exports.
The long, detailed policy speech is one of a string Rubio has given in recent months as he seeks to come from under the cloud of immigration reform, presenting himself as a man of ideas. Rubio helped write the Senate's reform bill but endured withering criticism from conservatives and his presidential stock took a hit.
Notably, Rubio did not mention immigration reform in his speech Monday, even as the business community (including tech giants such as Google) see it as a top priority. The issue came up, however, during a question-and-answer period of the forum, which was co-hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.
Asked if granting citizenship to millions of people living in the country illegally was good for the economy, Rubio said the legal immigration system is broken and needs reform, then focused on stronger enforcement, such as visa tracking.
He said the immigration system needs to move from one based on family ties to one on merit and ability to contribute to the economy.
On the citizenship question, he said, "That's just a fundamental decision the country will have to make."
"If the county decides that they are prepared to incorporate 8 or 9 million people who violated our laws, the next question will be are you prepared to have 8 or 9 million people living among you that can live here permanently for the rest of their lives but never become citizens? My take on that has been that, by and large, I don't think it's good for the country to have people ... who are legally here at this point, but permanently barred from becoming citizens. I don't think that's a good place for the country to be. But others feel differently."