Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took turns at the podium at a Thursday morning breakfast on out-of-control spending that took on strong shades of 2016.
Cruz spoke first at the Concerned Veterans for America Defend and Reform series event, setting the stage for a morning of campaign-style speeches preceding a panel talking about sequestration, entitlement reform and defense spending.
The Texas senator, after quipping “each of you tomorrow is going to be audited by the IRS,” jumped right into Ronald Reagan quotes and reflected on the former president’s philosophy during the Cold War: “Peace through strength is what Reagan saw so brilliantly,” he said.
“Economic growth is foundational to every other issue we have in America,” Cruz said, praising the Reagan virtues of “moral clarity and economic strength.”
On the former, Cruz criticized the Obama administration over its handling of Egypt. “What a sad, sad statement when people living under a radical Islamist oppressive government see the U.S. as siding with their oppressors,” he said.
Calling regulators “locusts,” Cruz nonetheless said “it is my hope that leaders in Washington in both parties… will stop the partisan bickering” and arrive at solutions to growing debt.
Introducing Rubio, The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes said “in my view, he is the future of the Republican Party.”
Rubio naturally started the speech with a bottled water joke, which has been a constant in his repertoire since his hasty sip during the State of the Union response. “Two bottles of water — this is a bit much,” he quipped at the podium supply.
Like Cruz, Rubio focused heavily on American exceptionalism, with an injection of extra fervor and swings usually reserved for the campaign trail.
The Obama administration, Rubio charged, is trying to “rob us of everything that has made us exceptional and unique.”
“These are the ideas of the old world,” he said. “These are the tried and failed ideas that have never worked in any country that has tried it.”
“What we have with this administration is a deep philosophical disagreement that cannot be bridged,” Rubio continued. “Look at the agenda they have chosen — instead of getting control of debt they focus on getting control of guns.”
The Florida Republican said he will not vote for a continuing resolution — the regular stopgap measures that fund the government in the absence of a budget — “unless it defunds Obamacare.”
“We should refuse to raise the debt limit by one single cent,” he said.
Still, Rubio argued, “we should not simply be the anti-debt party; we should be the pro-economic growth party.”
“We should be pursing pro-growth policies like serious tax reform, which I don’t believe this president will ever do.”
It was the Democrat speaking between Cruz and Rubio who offered more specifics for what he believes will fuel that growth.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is a co-chairman of the Fix the Debt campaign founded by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission who started their own campaign after Obama brushed aside their plan that called for spending cuts, tax hikes and entitlement reform.
“By 2040, if we do nothing, our debt will be 200 percent of our GDP — the time to fix it is now,” Rendell told the breakfast crowd.
In 10 years, he added, three-quarters of the federal budget “will be consumed by mandatory spending, mostly entitlements” with only 25 percent for all domestic discretionary spending and defense.
“We need to do something big; we can’t nibble at the edges,” Rendell said.
He advocated repealing sequestration, giving Congress a “menu” of reform options and implementing the Buffett Rule to put a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on individuals making more than $1 million per year. “Will the Buffett Rule affect anyone who works in this restaurant?” he asked.
While advocating the tax hikes Obama championed in 2011, Rendell veered the other way when he stressed “entitlement programs have to change…we Dems have to face up to it.” He singled out Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as someone who is stubbornly refusing to budge on entitlements to the detriment of the country’s economic future.
“Republicans have to get out of this idea that it’s evil to raise revenue,” the former governor continued. “It isn’t evil — Reagan did it 11 times.”
“If you harden those positions we won’t fix the debt… we will become another Greece,” he said of current stances of Dems and the GOP.
Rendell proposed piping a song into Congress on a loop track like “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones.
“But if you try, you might get what you need,” he added.
Rubio challenged Rendell’s assertion that the cooperation between Dems and the White House found in the Reagan era was possible today.
“There’s a difference between then and now,” Rubio said, adding the two political parties back then shared “some commonality of philosophical vision” that could aid in reaching consensus on a policy disagreement.
Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth stressed that consensus can be reached by what can seem like different philosophies on defense spending.
“Being a deficit hawk and a defense hawk aren’t mutually exclusive,” Hegseth said.
“If there’s anywhere our Constitution tells us we should be spending money it’s to provide for the common defense,” he added.