In his first domestic policy-focused speech since announcing his bid for president, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday outlined his vision for tax and higher education reform to usher in a "New American Century" marked by innovation and prosperity.
The GOP presidential candidate told the audience at a digital startup co-working space in Chicago that while the future may look bleak today, his proposals would ensure America remains competitive globally.
And he took direct aim at Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, framing her as a backward-looking foil to his forward-focused agenda.
“The race for the future will never be won by going backward. It will never be won by hopping in Hillary Clinton’s time machine to yesterday,” Rubio told the crowd. “She seems to believe pumping more of today’s money into yesterday’s programs will bring prosperity tomorrow.”
The Florida senator said technological innovation and globalization has created a situation in which “the path to the middle class is narrower today than it has been for generations, and the American Dream so many achieved in the last century is in peril.”
Higher-education “cartels" are a key inhibitor of upward mobility, he said, pledging to overhaul the system in the first 100 days of his presidency by “establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers.”
A President Rubio would also require schools to tell students how much they can expect to earn from their degrees, and expand access to career and vocational schools as well as apprenticeship programs for training on the job.
In his remarks, he outlined a broad array of domestic reforms, from an overhaul of the business tax code to reforming the legal immigration system to bring in more high-skilled workers.
He argued in particular against raising the minimum wage, which he said “will accelerate automation and outsourcing” rather than improve the quality of life for Americans.
Instead, Rubio proposes cutting the corporate tax rate to be competitive with the average 25 percent rate for developed countries, creating a “territorial tax system” to prevent businesses from being taxed twice on profits, and allowing businesses to take deductions on 100 percent of the funds they invest back into business development and employee wages.
He also called for “reforming our legal immigration system to make it skill- and merit-based rather than family-based, which will protect American workers and attract more talent to grow our economy and create jobs.”
The speech marked Rubio's reemergence on the campaign trail after weeks spent bogged down in Senate business on Capitol Hill and fundraising jaunts across the nation. Rubio’s campaign has yet to announce how much the aggressive fundraising schedule earned his campaign, although a key outside group backing him announced Monday that it has raised $15.8 million to date. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 14 percent of Republican primary voters identified him as their first choice for the nomination, placing him behind rivals Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
But the speech, along with his campaign swing through Iowa and Nevada in the coming days, is meant to catapult him back into the race and again highlight what Rubio's aides and allies see as his greatest asset -- his youthful appeal and unique personal narrative, in a field of older GOP candidates.