Senate Agenda
7:30 am
Wed January 2, 2013

Rubio Makes Middle Class His 2013 Project

Florida U. S. Sen. Marco Rubio plans to begin the new year with proposals to strengthen the middle class with education opportunities, jobs that will be worth their new degrees and solvent Social Security and Medicare systems to await their retirement.

GOT THE MESSAGE: Sen. Marco Rubio wants to strengthen the middle class with education opportunities, good jobs and a healthy Social Security/Medicare system.

"We don't have an economy that's producing those kinds of jobs, and too many of our people don't have the skills for the kinds of jobs that are being produced," Rubio told Tribune Co. newspapers last week. "We have to change both of those."

He said his initiatives should not be seen as the launch of a 2016 presidential campaign, even though early polling already makes him a heavy favorite to attract support for the Republican Party from far outside its traditional white and aging base.

Rubio said his others plan for immigration and debt reduction will prepare the federal government to create -- and prepare workers for -- worthwhile, 21st Century, middle class careers.

These are the concerns that resonated with Democratic voters in 2012 as they re-elected  President Obama and increased party representation in the U. S. House and Senate.

As the Hispanic son of immigrant parents, Rubio is seen as an obvious leader for a Republican Party seeking to retune its goals. But analysts agree, he will have to develop a narrative that extends beyond his roots and ethnicity:

"He's got to have some substance, not just flash," said Dennis Goldford, professor of politics at Drake University in Iowa, site of the first party presidential contests.

"Rubio is in a position, if he is so interested, to be a force of change in the party at a time when the party is looking for answers," Goldford observed. "He's a bright, attractive up-and-comer. But at this point, there's not a lot more to be said."

The senator made a good impression during a post-election visit to Iowa last month that set off buzz about his potential.

A survey this month of Republican leaders in Northwest Iowa by the Sioux City Journal found that Rubio was the runaway favorite for president, mostly because, as one GOP county chairwoman put it, "he can reach out to a more diverse group of people to get away from the stereotype that Republicans have."

Rubio's other plans include a limited DREAM act, more opportunities for immigrants to work in the U. S., through not on paths to citizenship, and reforming Medicare and Social Security. He told Tribune reporter William Gibson:

"It doesn't necessarily mean trimming benefits, it means restructuring the program. It means that for people in my generation – I'm a 41-year-old -- our Medicare is going to be different than for people who are 51 or 61 or 71. So we have 25 years to get ready for that. We can reform Medicare in the future in ways that will still leave it a very generous program, the best thing in the world, it's just going to look and work differently."