TALLAHASSEE —Florida's biggest Republican star, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, returned to the state Capitol on Wednesday to give a pep talk to the House Republican caucus and warn that the American dream is in danger of drowning in debt.
"The math is straightforward. The federal government this year, in order to operate, will have to borrow 11/2 trillion dollars — trillion dollars," he said.
"Medicare and Social Security as they currently are structured, is unsustainable," he said to applause. "They will bankrupt themselves and ultimately bankrupt our country."
But despite his calls for bipartisan solutions, Rubio gave no specifics and offered standard party-line fare to reduce spending and not raise taxes.
"Apart from all the ideological rhetoric," he said, "an increase in taxes will destroy the ability of our economy to grow, which will mean less revenue to government. It's a vicious cycle. They're starting to doubt about our ability to pay our debt back."
Speaking fluidly without notes, Rubio gave his address from the well of the Florida House, which he led as speaker in 2007 and '08. During his 18-minute speech, Rubio compared the challenge of the nation's debt to slavery and the two world wars. But he wasn't all doom and gloom. The son of Cuban exiles paid homage to America, "the single greatest society in all of human history," and wove in Reaganesque touches about the struggles and greatness of the common man.
Rubio's friend and current state House Republican leader, Miami Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, summed up the performance simply: "That's why he's a United States senator."
And it's also part of the reason why Rubio creamed Gov. Charlie Crist in the race for U.S. Senate, a campaign that propelled Rubio into national political stardom. But rather than seek the spotlight, Rubio has declined high-profile speaking engagements out of state in his first two months in office.
Prior to his speech, Rubio met privately with Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, all Republicans. Rubio said he discussed Panamanian and Colombian free-trade issues with Scott and discussed Bondi's efforts to fight so-called fake cocaine sold under the guise as bath salts.
Rubio said he wanted to "keep open lines of communication" with the state leaders and said that he felt state and federal political leaders didn't stay in close enough contact when he was House speaker.
Rubio said he'll stay neutral in the upcoming Republican primary for the Senate. The winner will take on Democrat Bill Nelson, with whom Rubio pledged to work on issues important to the state and nation. He warned that the national debt could soon lead the country into a "death spiral" in which the country has to borrow money just to pay interest on borrowed money.
"I think both political parties are to blame because at the end of the day there's been a massive shortage — I wouldn't even call it political courage — of political vision in Washington, D.C. And we pay the price every day," Rubio said.
"What I fear most of all is that we have a political process in Washington that is frozen," he said. "The White House knows this. The congressional leadership knows this. But no one wants to go first because they don't want to get beaten up about it. …
"If we don't figure this out, none of these politics and elections are going to matter anyway because this country will decline so rapidly that you won't even recognize it by 20 or 30 years. It's not going to be a Third World country. But it's not going to be exceptional or unique. Our decline is not inevitable."