Rising Republican star, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, was right on message concerning pro-growth tax reform, spending cuts, deficits and debt. He told me on “The Kudlow Report” last night that President Obama never responded to the Rubio letter blaming the prez for creating a deadbeat nation that looks more and more like Western Europe. And Rubio told me he didn’t have all the answers, but he wants the GOP to be the party of legal immigration.
LARRY KUDLOW: We welcome back to The Kudlow Report rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rubio, welcome back.
MARCO RUBIO: Thank you for having me.
KUDLOW: All right. You’re at the top of Drudge. A few hours ago you said the winner of Florida is in all likelihood going to be the nominee of our party. By most accounts, Mitt Romney is going to have a commanding victory tonight. Is this it for Romney?
RUBIO: Well, we’ll see. I mean, I don’t know who’s going to win. I know the polls say certain things but we have to wait and see. Florida is a difficult state to poll, and you know, people have been voting for a week now, so it’s not quite clear how that’ll turn out. But my argument is this. I mean, Florida — and one of the reasons why I’ve always supported moving Florida up in the primary cycle is because it’s so indicative of the country. So I think Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina have a very special place in this process, and then Florida right afterwards. That it’s kind of a microcosm of the country. And the argument I would make is that if you win in Florida, and especially if you win decisively, I think it positions you to do very well in the general election. And so I’m not saying the campaign is going to end tomorrow, I’m not calling for anyone to drop out. All I’m saying is that, ultimately, at the end of the day, if you win a primary in Florida, especially if you win decisively, I think you can make a very compelling argument to being a very, very strong general election candidate.
KUDLOW: All right. Let me move on to some other things. As you probably know, the CBO, Congressional Budget Office put out a very gloomy report today, 8.9 percent employment this year, only 2 percent economic growth, another trillion dollar budget deficit. And earlier this month you wrote a letter to President Obama where you said, and I quote, “More and more people believe America is becoming a deadbeat nation, heading toward European-style debt crisis.” What did you mean by that? What’s the policy implication for you?
RUBIO: What I mean by that is both Republicans and Democrats here in Washington have built up a debt. The Obama administration has made it worse. There seems to be no real political will from the Senate leadership or the White House to do anything about it, and there’s no plan in place to undo it anytime in the near future. What you hear from the CBO report, what you hear from all the experts is that all we can see is deficits and debt as far as the eye can see. We now have debts that are the equal to the size of our economy. Think about it. We have built a government so large and so expensive here in Washington that not even the richest economy in the history of mankind can afford it. That’s how big it’s gotten. And there is no plan in place to do anything about it at any time in the near future. That’s what I meant by it.
RUBIO: It’s a very, very serious problem.
KUDLOW: That’s the thing that’s most troubling. First of all, let me ask you, did President Obama ever respond to your letter?
RUBIO: No. No, he did not.
KUDLOW: All right. Second thing, were you surprised, as many of us were, that in the State of the Union he barely mentioned, only in passing, deficit and debt?
KUDLOW: And the best he comes out with is this 30 percent minimum tax for millionaires. That’s not a growth plan, is it?
RUBIO: Well, there’s a lot of things he didn’t talk about. The debt was one of them, his accomplishments was another one of them. He’s trying to convince the American people that the way you protect people’s jobs it to raise their boss’ taxes. He’s made the calculation that what he needs to do to get re-elected is pit Americans against each other. He’s selling this thing out there that somehow the only way some people can do better is for other people to do worse, that we’re somehow involved in some economic zero-sum gains, where the only way I can make more money is for someone else to make less, etc., etc. People don’t buy that stuff. It’s not what’s made us great. This is what other countries do. It’s what you’d expect to hear in the Third World and stuff like that. So I think it’s very unfortunate and just one more reminder of why we need to desperately change direction in November.
KUDLOW: Well, let me just ask you, on the campaign trail, I don’t hear Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, I don’t hear them talking about deep spending cuts with any specificity. I don’t hear them saying much about the deficit and the debt. And a lot of people are beginning to think that the tea party has been quiescent because they’re sort of demoralized, that these two candidates and even Republicans in Congress have not broken through, not on the debt ceiling, not on the supercommittee. You know this, sir. We don’t…
RUBIO: Yeah. Well…
KUDLOW: …seem to be moving in that direction.
RUBIO: Well, our number one goal needs to be growth, and that’s a positive message. We want the economy to grow, we want more taxpayers, we want people to make more money. We want growth. And now, what are the impediments to growth? Regulation, a broken tax code and a national debt that scares people from investing in America’s future. Those issues are all interrelated. We know what the drivers of the national debt are. It’s not foreign aid. It’s not some of these other programs. The drivers of the national debt are largely contained in Medicare and Medicaid. These are important programs for America. I’m a supporter of Medicare, but we have to save it; and as it’s currently structured, the program goes bankruptcy. And those out there like the president who advocate doing nothing serious about Medicare are advocating bankrupting Medicare. And so I wish there was more talk about that. That’s important. And I think the next president of the United States is going to have to lead on that front.
KUDLOW: So will the Republicans in this coming session of Congress have the kind of message you’re talking about, a fiscally tough message with pro-growth tax reform? Is it going to rally around let’s say the new Paul Ryan budget or Senator Ron Johnson’s ideas or your own ideas or Tom Coburn’s ideas?
KUDLOW: It just doesn’t seem like the GOP is making much headway on the message.
RUBIO: Yeah. No, that’s what it seems like. And sometimes it’s true. But in all fairness, I mean, for example, Senator Portman and McCain and others, with Senator Paul, have offered a Republican’s jobs plan, and it has a bunch of these measures that you’re outlining contained therein: regulatory reform, real tax reform, a flattening of the tax code, making it more fair, dealing with debt. It just doesn’t get coverage. I mean, it’s just not being talked about. And it certainly isn’t getting a vote from Senate leadership. And maybe we need to do a better job of talking more about it so people realize that there all — are alternatives out there to the direction our president wants to take the country.
KUDLOW: And last one, come back to Florida, if you will. You blasted Newt Gingrich at one point for saying that Romney was anti-immigrant. Gingrich wound up pulling the ad. Let me just ask you, in terms of your own vision…
KUDLOW: …how does the Republican Party reach out to Hispanic voters and their families? What is the best way to do it.
RUBIO: Well, you talk about the economy and jobs and economic empowerment. But you can’t even get to that if you’re — if they feel you don’t care about them or if you’re talking about immigration in an insensitive way. Here’s what I think. The Republican Party needs to be, and I believe is, the pro-legal immigration party. That means modernization of our legal immigration system so that it helps our economy grow. That’s the sorts of things we need to be focused on, simplifying it, investing in border security and in employment security that’s cost affordable. And then, you know, you have to move to — there is the issue of what you do with 11 million people that are here without documents. And that’s a difficult issue to deal with. On the one hand, we cannot be the only country in the world that doesn’t enforce its immigration laws. On the other — and so you can’t have blanket amnesty. But on the other hand, you’re not going to deport 11 million people. And I confess, I don’t have an easy answer to that problem. But I can tell you, it gets easier. It’ll never be easy, but it gets easier once you have real border enforcement, real E-Verify workforce enforcement and a real commitment to modernizing our legal immigration system. And that’s where our party needs to be.
And here’s the one thing I reject, this label or anti-immigrant that the left likes to throw around. I think there’s a consensus in America that the immigration system we have needs to be fixed. But just because you don’t agree with the left’s specific ideas on how to fix it does not make someone anti-immigrant.
RUBIO: And I think it’s unfair to use that label.
KUDLOW: All right, we’ll leave it there. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, thanks, sir. We appreciate your time very much.
RUBIO: Thank you.