Rubio: “When I hear people telling the American people that the way to protect your job is to raise your bosses’ taxes, I think that’s counterproductive. When I hear policymakers in Washington pitting the American people against each other, telling people that the only way you can do better is if someone else is worse off, I get concerned. Because not only is it not true, that type of thought has never worked anywhere in the world. In fact, people flee from countries that think in that way.
The American experience has been something very different. The American experience has been that this is a country where everybody can do better. Or the people that have made it can stay there and the people that are trying to make it can join them. We’ve never believed that the way for us to do better is other people having to do worse. We’ve never believed that in order for us to climb the ladder, we have to pull somebody else down.”
Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor Speech
January 24, 2012
It’s good to be back. Good to be back at work here in Washington, D.C. We have the big State of the Union tonight, which is kind of the beginning of the legislative year. I’m looking forward to the great challenges and hopefully accomplishments that we will be able to have together both in this chamber and in this building, in the coming year. As we prepare for the State of the Union, I think it is always a good time for us to reflect on where we are as a nation and where we hope to be, and also where we’ve been. And I think all of us can look back at the 20th century and that say it was truly the American Century. I was fortunate and blessed to be born in this country during that century and to be the beneficiary of so much of America’s greatness.
I think those of us who have been the beneficiaries of America’s past have an obligation, especially those of us who serve here, to be defenders of America’s greatness in the future. And I think that at the core of everything we debate today, are these issues about America’s future and how we make the 21st century an American Century as well. Now, if we examine some of the things that have really distinguished us from the rest of the world, that has made America, and life in America different than life in other countries, there is three things that come to mind.
The first is this concept of fairness. We are a people that strongly believe in the concept of fairness. And for Americans, fairness has meant equality of opportunity. In essence, the belief that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter if your parents are poor, it doesn’t matter if you grow up in a disadvantaged background. Every single American should have the equality of opportunity, should have the same opportunity to succeed and accomplish their hopes and dreams. Now, maybe we take that for granted from time to time but that is not a universal concept. In multiple societies and economies around the world, I would dare say a majority of them, there isn’t a strong belief in this notion. In fact, people believe that what you are going to be in life should be determined by the circumstances of your birth. Not in America. This chamber, the membership here, basically anywhere you go in America is a testament to people that were born in a very different place or into very different circumstances than the ones that they live in now and the things they have been able to achieve.
We believe in fairness. As Americans, we have always embraced the concept of prosperity, the ability to accomplish your economic dreams and hopes. Sometimes that means people make billions of dollars, and sometimes that means you make enough money to provide for your family and give them the opportunity to do even better than yourself, but we embrace the concept of prosperity.
And last but not least, we Americans have always embraced the concept of responsibility. The responsibility that each of us have as individuals, as neighbors, as members of a community, as family members, and deep in this concept of responsibility is the notion that while we want fairness and equality of opportunity and while we want prosperity, we are also a compassionate people that do not want to see people left behind. In essence, we do not want the price of our prosperity to be leaving people behind. And to that end, Americans as I outlined in a speech earlier last year, have always struggled and have fought for the notion of balancing those two dual, important goals, being a nation of prosperity and also a nation of responsibility.
So these are the things, this is the core of our values as a people that define our greatness in the last century, and therefore they must remain at the core of who we are as a nation if we want the 21st century to be an American Century as well.
So let’s examine some of the challenges to those three principles that are so important to our future. On the issue of fairness, on the issue of equality of opportunity, what are the things today that are standing in the way of equality of opportunity in America? In essence, what are the things today that are keeping some people from climbing up the ladder, from doing better than their parents did, from being able to pursue and fulfill their dreams as they should in a nation so deeply committed to the notion of equality of opportunity?
In essence, there are a few things that are standing in the way. The first is skills. There are some Americans right now that do not have access to the kind of training they need to build up the skills they need, for example, to create or to have a middle-class job.
And part of that is our own doing as a nation. We have, for example, stigmatized career and technical education. For the life of me, I do not understand why we have done that. Not every kid wants to go to a four-year university. Not every kid wants to graduate with a Ph.D. Some kids just want to grow up and fix airplane engines or build things. That’s good work, it’s important work, it’s necessary work and yet we do not train our kids to do that. A growing number of middle-class jobs in America require more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree in college. Why can’t kids graduate from high school with a high school diploma and an industry certification in a career that will employ them right away? That’s one of the impediments that’s standing in the way of growing middle-class jobs. If we’re truly committed to the principle of fairness, we should invest in that, we should encourage that, particularly at the state level.
There is another thing standing in the way of fairness, equality of opportunity, and that is the playing field is not always even. And there are two things in particular that stand out -- our regulations and our tax codes. Look, it’s not me saying it. It’s the job creators, it’s the small businesses, it’s the people trying to make it. Let me tell you what I mean by that. We have a complicated tax code. It’s broken. Here’s the deal with that: if you are a large, major, Fortune 500 company, you can afford the best lawyers and accountants in the world to navigate it. You may not like the complicated tax code, but you can deal with it. The people who cannot deal with a complicated tax code are the people that are trying to make it, are the sole practitioner, the entrepreneur, the small business starting out of the garage or the spare bedroom of their home. They can’t deal with the taxes and they can’t deal with the regulations because they can’t hire the army of specialists that it takes to navigate these things.
Unless you say that somehow we’re making this up or somehow this is coming out of nowhere. Let me tell you, the US Chamber of Commerce did a survey of small businesses earlier this year. Here’s what they found: 86% of small businesses, which by the way is not just the backbone of America’s economy, it’s the backbone of America’s prosperity. Eight-six percent of them said that they are worried that regulations, restrictions, and taxes is hurting their ability to do business. This is a fact.
So in terms of there not be a playing field that’s even in America, in my opinion, the single greatest contributor to making it more difficult for people who are trying to make it to make it is some of the governmental policies, as well-intentioned as they may be, that are being implemented at the governmental level.
We need to invest and commit deeply to this notion of fairness, which is defined in America as equality of opportunity.
The second thing we need to continue to believe in is in prosperity, and prosperity in America has and must continue to mean private sector economic growth. The private sector grows, and creates private jobs which employ people, and turn those people into parents that can send their kids to college and consumers that can spend money into our economy. The creation of middle-class jobs, as I said earlier, is not just the backbone of our economy, it’s the backbone of our prosperity.
Now how are jobs created in the private sector? It’s not a complicated dynamic, it’s pretty simple. Someone has an idea, they have a business or a product they want to invest, they have access to money whether it’s their own money or someone else’s money, and they use that money to put their idea into practice, they start a business and it works.
And as a result people get jobs and people are employed and the cycle repeats itself. The job of us here in Washington, is to make it easier for people to do that, at every level.
Number one, making it easier for people to have ideas. And that’s the easiest one of all. Because Americans haven’t run out of good ideas and Americans haven’t forgotten how to create jobs. There are plenty of great ideas. The great businesses of the 21st century, there are a bunch of them right now that exist in the minds of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are just waiting for the chance to put that dream into practice.
The second thing we have to do is make it easier for them to get access to the money they need to start these businesses. And that means encourage investment. Which means, for the life of me I do not understand, why we would punish or discourage investment. Why would we raise taxes on people who want to take their money and invest it in businesses that allow these businesses to grow and hire more people? It’s important that we make that easier as well.
And I would just say that -- let me talk again about the small businesses. The same survey that I just outlined a minute ago, 78% of small businesses say that taxes and regulations coming from Washington also make it harder for them to hire more employees. So, in addition to making it easier for people to make money available to these as investors to allow these ideas to go into practice, we also have to lower the cost of doing business — the barriers to entry. And the equation is pretty straightforward.
If you’re an employee somewhere working for somebody and you decide, “Hey, I think I can do this job better than my boss can. I’m going to go out and start a business just like this one and compete against him.” Well, if the regulations that impact that industry and the tax code that applies to that industry are too complicated and too burdensome, you can’t do it.
And if you’re a small business that’s trying to grow, no matter how much money you have invested, you may not able to deal with these things as well.
So, once again that’s why these things matter.
By the way, there are two industries that I hope we’ll look at as real growth opportunities, as real prosperity creators in America.
One is energy. We are an energy-rich country. And advances in technology have made certain deposits of energy that were once inaccessible to us accessible. Natural gas is a great example. We need to stop punishing investment in the energy sector by raising taxes on it. And we need to stop passing regulations that not only make it difficult to access our energy deposits, but in fact take entire areas of this country and put them completely off-limits. So energy is one that we should focus on.
And the other is manufacturing. And there is no reason why as the rise of labor around the world, rise of labor costs around the world, more and more manufacturing can’t return to the United States, but it isn’t going to happen, again, if you regulate people who are looking to do manufacturing. If you regulate them in the way they decide America is not the place we should do this and again if the tax treatment of manufacturing in America puts us at a competitive disadvantage.
Let me close by just saying that the opportunity before us all is really real. The 21st century holds extraordinary promise, promise that has no parallel in all of human history. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we can see the kind of economic growth here and around the world that we have never seen before. That’s how promising the 21st century is, but it all comes down to a choice.
We have to make a choice.
Are we prepared to abandon the principles and ideals that made us unique and special? Or are we going to re-embrace those principles and ideals and in so doing make this new century an American century as well?
And when I hear some of the talk in this building, it concerns me. When I hear people telling the American people that the way to protect your job is to raise your bosses’ taxes, I think that’s counterproductive. When I hear policymakers in Washington pitting the American people against each other, telling people that the only way you can do better is if someone else is worse off, I get concerned. Because not only is it not true, that type of thought has never worked anywhere in the world.
In fact, people flee from countries that think in that way.
The American experience has been something very different. The American experience has been that this is a country where everybody can do better. Or the people that have made it can stay there and the people that are trying to make it can join them. We’ve never believed that the way for us to do better is other people having to do worse. We’ve never believed that in order for us to climb the ladder, we have to pull somebody else down.
And to me this is not theory. It’s the experience of my life.
My parents raised me with middle-class jobs in the service sector.
My Dad, for example, was a bartender. And I thanked God every night there was someone willing to risk their money to build a hotel on Miami Beach and later in Vegas where he could work.
I thank God there was enough prosperity in America so people could go on vacation to Miami Beach or Las Vegas. Where people felt prosperous enough to have weddings or Bar Mitzvahs and, by the way, could leave tips in my Dad’s little tip jar. Because with that money he raised us. And he gave me the opportunity to do things he never had a chance to do.
Now, we had help along the way. I had student loans and grants from the government to help me get my education, went to our public school system. That’s an important role for government to play.
But let’s not forget that we cannot have more government than our economy can afford.
And that’s why those of us who desperately want to see a country that continues to have prosperity, but also compassion. Who believe in safety net programs, that should exist to help those who cannot help themselves and to help those who have fallen to stand up and try again, that’s why we believe we have to have a strong and robust economy.
And what’s startling is we, the largest, most prosperous nation in human history, have built a government so expensive and so massive, that not even the richest country in the history of the world can afford it. And we cannot continue on that road either.
So, I will just close by saying I hope this new year, this will be the beginning of our work toward a new American century. Because I know that it worked in the past.
I know that this idea of a nation where anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything is not just something I read about in a magazine. I’ve seen it in my own life and no reason why it cannot continue here, if only we do the right things.