By KEN THOMAS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Republicans intend to cast President Barack Obama's second-term agenda as more "big government" and offer a series of steps to boost economic growth and reduce the federal debt, countering the president's agenda with competing visions for the country.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, previewing the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, said Republican leaders would pursue policies that would create jobs for middle-class families, tame the federal debt and hold down future spending while providing a check on the president's agenda.
"We don't just want to be the opposition. We want to be the alternative," Rubio said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Rubio's speech will help frame how Republicans respond to Obama's first State of the Union address of his second term and try to shape the agenda at a time of divided government. Obama's first term was marked by clashes with Republicans in Congress over the role of government, deficits and spending cuts, and both sides are expected to use their addresses to offer prescriptions for rejuvenating the economy.
Rubio will deliver his address in both English and Spanish, a move that comes as party leaders point to the need to connect with Latino voters. Obama won 71 percent of Hispanics last year against Republican Mitt Romney and Republicans have said they must address that deficit with Hispanics in order to compete effectively with Democrats in the future.
Rubio is not the only Republican who plans to formally respond to Obama's speech before Congress. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will deliver a tea party rebuttal to the president's address from the National Press Club on Tuesday night. He said it would serve as an "extra response" to Rubio's speech.
"This is about the tea party, which is a grassroots movement, a real movement with millions of Americans who are still concerned about some of the deal making that goes on in Washington. They're still concerned about the fact that we are borrowing $50,000 a second," Paul said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "None of the things I ran on as part of the tea party have been fixed."
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has played a high-profile role in promoting comprehensive immigration reform, which both Obama and lawmakers have identified as a top priority this year. But he said his rebuttal would emphasize a number of Republican approaches to improve the economy, including reforms to the tax code, stronger energy policies and ways of improving career and vocational training.
"You're usually able to go as far as your talent and work will take you and that's the direct product of free enterprise and limited government," Rubio said. "The president is basically asking us to abandon that. He's asking us to embrace the principles of more government, more government spending, more government control of our economy."
Rubio said in the past Republicans had not persuaded enough middle-class Americans to support their ideas on the economy. He said the party would argue that tax increases would hurt middle-class families because "they're passed through in the form of higher prices, less pay, less benefits and sometimes layoffs."
"Big government does not help you get ahead. It actually hurts the people who are trying to get ahead," he said.
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