Marco Rubio Sworn In as U.S. Senator
Around the State
Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, and according to tradition, Marco Rubio walked down the aisle of the Senate floor with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on his left and retired Sen. Mel Martinez on his right.
After reaching Vice President Joe Biden at the right of the Senate president's desk, Rubio stopped, took the oath, and became Florida's newest senator.
"I'm here to be the United States senator from Florida and the best senator I can. I mean that," Rubio told reporters earlier that morning in his Senate office. "That's what I ran for, that's what I want to be."
The charismatic star of the Republican Party has expectations aplenty riding on his shoulders, even to the point of a possible run for president, a speculation he quickly shrugs off.
"It's a circus. You guys are part of the circus, you understand," he told reporters. "Next week they'll talk about somebody else."
During his campaign, Rubio stood out as a different kind of Republican. He has a gift captivating a crowd with his speeches, and demonstrated a willingness to offer alternative ideas rather than just say no to the opposing party. His unwavering stances on values of reducing debt, promoting a healthy business and economic environment, and keeping taxes low, won him the title of "Tea Party senator" by some. But sticking to those values and compromising enough to get things done in Washington may prove a great challenge for the freshman senator. Still, many from the Florida delegation are brimming with hope.
"He brings a fresh face to Florida politics and to national politics. And I think everybody's ready to see if there's another way to do things," said Florida House board member, Ben Hill.
"He'll throw into the hopper for consideration, different ideas. And ideas that are worthy of trial. And I believe the opposite side will listen to him."
At the top of Rubio's list of priorities is the national debt. He says he won't support raising the debt ceiling unless the action is accompanied by serious measures to tackle the debt problem. "Otherwise," he says, "eight months from now, we're going to be raising the debt ceiling again."
The debt ceiling was raised to $14.3 trillion in February of 2010. But the Treasury expects to reach that limit before June. Some, including one White House adviser, says reaching the debt ceiling could mean catastrophic consequences for the economy, because it would essentially mean the U.S. is defaulting on its loans.
Nevertheless, Rubio says the economic path the country is on doesn't hold a future any brighter.
"I think this debt issue is going to be confronted head-on. And I hope that we're serious about confronting it," Rubio said. "It cannot be continued to be put off. The rest of the world and our creditors and our economy are looking at the decisions being made in Washington and they want to know right off the bat, are the people we just sent up there serious about dealing with this debt issue. Because if they're not, then we've got big problems."
Tied directly to the national debt are other issues near the top of Rubio's list.
Like many other Republican leaders, the freshman senator wants to repeal President Barack Obama's health-care law. Some mainstream media outlets and political pundits are quick to accuse the Republican Party of not caring about health care and the plight of many Americans. They use the scarcity of Republican alternatives to health care as evidence. But Rubio does have alternatives. He says both parties are to blame for the direction the country is headed.
"The first and most important thing we need to do is repeal it and replace it with common-sense ideas," he said, "like allowing businesses to pool together with other small businesses and associations and buy insurance from any company in America that will sell it to them."
He rattled off a couple of other ideas, like allowing individuals to spend money on their own health care tax-free, and giving states an incentive to take on tort reform, which he cited as a major contributing factor to the increasing cost of health care.
Rubio also has a target painted on earmarks.
"Right now, it's the reason I have heartburn and why I'm opposed to the earmark process," he said. "It's because it's basically based on the power of the individual congressman or senator -- how long they've been here, and how much power they have. That determines who gets the money while the rest of us pay for it. And we're paying for it with borrowed money nowadays, so it makes it even worse."
He won't answer directly when he's asked about projects important to Florida, like high-speed rail or a major dredging project at the Port of Miami. He simply says he wants to see a funding priority for projects determined in a nonpolitical way.
"We need to continue to spend money on transportation projects," he said. "We need to continue to spend money on other projects that exist in the federal government, but it should not be a political decision. It should be a decision based on what's best for the direction of our country."
While Rubio is quick to express how humbled he feels by his new responsibility, he is in no way timid about what he wants to do. He stresses the fact that he doesn't want to be a part of the party of "no," but rather, the party that has better ideas.
"I think we should only oppose their bad ideas, and they have a lot of them," he quipped.
Rubio will finish the day with some celebratory receptions with family and friends, but he won't be able to get any official work done until the month is nearly over. The Senate is expected to be on break until Jan. 24.
Lane Wright can be reached at email@example.com or 561-247-1063.