In the years before he became legendary for delivering the thirstiest State of the Union response ever, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was peddling another legend. On his path to becoming speaker of the Florida House, Rubio often told Sunshine State audiences he was "the son of exiles" forced to flee their beloved island of Cuba after the "thug" Fidel Castro took power. As it turned out, Rubio's parents didn't come to America to escape terror and persecution from the Castro regime after it toppled dictator Fulgencio Battista in 1959. Instead, they arrived in 1956 as immigrants seeking opportunity, not exiles running for their lives.
Now, a new myth—Marco the Moderate—is enveloping the 2016 White House hopeful in the wake of his surprisingly strong third-place showing in last week's Iowa Caucus. "In doing so," Politico's Glenn Thrush gushed, "he established himself as (in the eyes of many party elders and himself) the Republican with the most potential crossover appeal in a general election." After weeks of growing panic about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, David Brooks rejoiced that "the amazing surge for Marco Rubio shows that the Republican electorate has not gone collectively insane." Rubio, Reuters declared, "emerged as the champion of the battered Republican establishment," and made a strong case that "supporters of other moderate, establishment candidates such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Ohio governor John Kasich should throw their support, and their money, behind him."
As it turns out, there's only one problem with the Marco the Moderate Myth: It simply isn't true.
As a quick glance at his past record and proposals for the future shows, Marco Rubio is a reactionary ideologue whose extremism has only increased during his short tenure in the Senate. A man who now opposes access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Sen. Rubio also followed John McCain's well-worn path in condemning his own immigration reform bill. A one-man wrecking ball who single-handedly cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their health insurance plans, the ersatz moderate is a reckless foreign policy adventurer committed to sabotaging the nuclear deal with Iran and dramatically increasing U.S. defense spending. And at a time of record income inequality, President Rubio would take on trillions in new debt to deliver a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy. Nevertheless, Mr. Moderate is demanding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, even as he refuses to raise the debt ceiling.
So when Marco Rubio asks "are you ready for a New American Century?" he apparently means the 15th century. Consider, for example, his views on abortion.
As ThinkProgress recently explained:
In 2013, Rubio co-sponsored a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks but allowing for exceptions in the case of rape and incest. But he has since moved to the right and last year, co-sponsored a similar bill which did not allow for any exceptions.
Just how far right became apparent during the first GOP presidential debate last August. After Fox News host Megan Kelly informed the candidates that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan had called rape and incest exemptions "preposterous" and said "they discriminate against an entire class of human beings," Sen. Rubio offered this novel—and truly preposterous—constitutional theory:
"I've advocated passing a law that says that all human life, at every stage of its development, is worthy of protection--in fact, I believe that law already exists. It's called the Constitution of the United States."
If that disturbing interpretation sounds familiar, you've been paying attention. Only Rubio's Republican rival Mike Huckabee agreed, proclaiming the same night that to "ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child's Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law."
To appreciate just how extreme Rubio's position is, remember that the GOP's 2008 nominee (John McCain) and 2012 choice (Mitt Romney) expressed their support for the rape and incest exemptions. Rubio's belief in the immaculate constitutionality of fetal personhood contradicts the last several Republican party platforms, too:
Faithful to the "self-evident" truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children.
While Marco Rubio apparently believes the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses already apply to fetuses, living LGBT Americans are another matter. It's not just that Rubio opposes the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision making marriage equality the law of the land—he rejects more than 50 years of Supreme Court precedent behind it:
"I don't believe any case law is settled law. Any future Supreme Court can change it, and ultimately, I will appoint Supreme Court justices that will interpret the Constitution as originally constructed," Rubio told Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press" Dec. 13. "I don't think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage."
In Rubio's Mad Libs version of the Constitution, the establishment clause of the First Amendment has been comically rewritten as well. As he explained in November to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):
"We are clearly called in the Bible to adhere to our civil authorities. But that conflicts with also our requirement to adhere to God's rules. So when those two come in conflict, God's rules always win."
And to be sure, in Republican primary states like Iowa, God's rules do always win. That's why the one-time champion of comprehensive immigration reform had to have a conversion on the road to Des Moines.
Rubio, you'll recall, labored for two years to help craft the Senate bill creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. As Rush Limbaugh pointed out in December, "Marco Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight trying to secure amnesty and wishes he wasn't." Fellow right-wing radio host Mark Levin complained, too, warning "such unprincipled ambition has not and will not go unnoticed by conservatives."
Which is why Marco Rubio, like John McCain eight years before, pulled a 180-degree turn in time for the start of the 2016 election cycle. By the middle of 2013, Rubio was already reassuring Hugh Hewitt he would vote against his own bill. Now, he uses the same excuse ("the people want the borders secured first") John McCain offered in January 2008. As he explained in this mea culpa to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last year, Marco Rubio learned his lesson:
"You have 10 or 12 million people in this country, many of whom have lived here for longer than a decade, have not otherwise violated our law other than immigration laws, I get all that," Rubio said. "But what I've learned is you can't even have a conversation about that until people believe and know, not just believe but it's proven to them that future illegal immigration will be controlled."
(If by "controlled" Rubio means net zero illegal immigration in the United States, we've already passed that point. As the Center for Migration Studies reported in January, "the number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008" while "the total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003.")
No doubt, Marco Rubio's right-wing pandering on immigration is pathetic. But his plans for the federal budget and the American economy are downright dangerous.
To understand the minefield Rubio is laying out for Americans, it is helpful to begin with his January USA Today op-ed calling for a convention of states to amend the Constitution and restore limited government. Among the myriad disasters his tea party fantasy would necessarily entail for the United States, one is the most comically catastrophic of all. As it turns out, to achieve the balanced budget he demands, President Rubio would have to slash federal spending by up to $21 trillion—that is, by more than 40 percent—over the next decade.
The math behind the instantaneous Rubio Recession of 2017 is pretty straightforward. In its most recent 10-year forecast released last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated federal spending at $51.4 trillion. During the same 2017 to 2026 time span, total tax revenues are forecast at $42.0 trillion. On its current path, then, the federal government will run up about $9.4 trillion in new deficits in the coming 10 years.
But as he has repeatedly demanded, Sen. Rubio once again called for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. As he put it in his call for a constitutional convention:
This method of amending our Constitution has become necessary today because of Washington's refusal to place restrictions on itself. The amendment process must be approached with caution, which is why I believe the agenda should be limited to ideas that reduce the size and scope of the federal government, such as imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and forcing fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget requirement.
To put it another way, Sen. Rubio wants to be sure that President Rubio can't run any deficits at all. Sadly, Sen. Rubio has already promised a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy that will drain up to $12 trillion in revenue from the U.S. Treasury over a decade. And that means that altogether, President Rubio will have to tighten Uncle Sam's belt by $21 trillion.
Now, in his defense, Rubio has claimed that his tax cuts pay for themselves, as this exchange with CNBC's John Harwood shows:
RUBIO: Well, within the ten-year window, my plan begins to create a surplus. The second point I'd make to people is, you can't tax your way into a stable budget.
HARWOOD: Wait, your plan creates a surplus because of the dynamic effect?
As Alex Trebek of TV game show Jeopardy would say, "Ooh, sorry. That's not right."
The conservative-friendly Tax Foundation claimed that Rubio's scheme would cost Uncle Sam $6 trillion over 10 years, but only $2.4 trillion using its magical "dynamic scoring" model. After snorting that pixie dust, Rubio—like his GOP rivals—fantasizes that the massive economic growth triggered by lower tax rates will produce a revenue avalanche for Washington. But based on the calamitous real world experience of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, most analysts think Rubio and his Republican colleagues are delusional. Just how delusional?
A new Citizens for Tax Justice analysis of Marco Rubio's tax plan reveals that it would add $11.8 trillion to the national debt over a decade. More than a third of Rubio's tax cuts would go to the best-off 1 percent of Americans.
Now, whether you believe President Rubio will have to erase $9.4, $11.8, $15.4, $21.4 trillion or any number containing 12 zeroes in deficits over a decade, the task is an impossible one. As Jonathan Chait explained in "Why Rubionomics Is Even Crazier Than You Think:"
Over the next decade, Washington is projected to collect $41.6 trillion in revenue under current policies. Rubio would reduce that to about $30 trillion. Rubio proposes to increase the defense budget -- but, for the sake of generosity, let us assume he merely keeps the budget at the current levels he decries as "setting ourselves up for danger." He likewise promises not to touch benefits for current or near-retirees, leaving those programs unavailable for cuts over that time. According to figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, expenditures on defense, Medicare, Social Security, and mandatory interest payments on the national debt will total $30.7 trillion over that period -- and that's without accounting for any other functions of the federal government at all. So Medicaid, veterans' health insurance, transportation, border security, and education, not to mention the entire federal anti-poverty budget other than Medicare and Social Security, would have to go. Oh, and Rubio has also called for an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget every year.
And two more things. First, those spending reductions topping $21 trillion are so gigantic, ThinkProgress pointed out when a balanced budget amendment was being kicked around Congress four year ago, they would produce an economic calamity on the scale of the Great Depression:
If the 2012 budget were balanced through spending cuts, those cuts would total about $1.5 trillion in 2012 alone, the analysis estimates. Those cuts would throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.
And under President Rubio, the pain would start immediately. That's because as far back as 2011, Sen. Marco Rubio insisted he would never support another increase in the debt ceiling. That March, the new freshman senator from Florida didn't just demand a balanced budget amendment. As he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, "Why I Won't Vote to Raise the Debt Limit:"
"I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."
All of which means President Rubio's promised New American Century must feature either a cataclysmic contraction, or a sovereign default by the United States—or both. After all, as future House Speaker Paul Ryan explained in 2011, "You can't not raise the debt ceiling." His predecessor, fellow Republican John Boehner, agreed:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."
Rubio's debt problems don't end there. The Florida freshman hasn't merely called for rolling back the $1 trillion in "sequestration" cuts to defense spending over the next decade. Regurgitating the same talking points about the size of the U.S. military that were the cause of Mitt Romney's embarrassment in 2012, Rubio has proposed even larger defense outlays in the future.
So to find savings to offset the staggering cost of his tax cut payday for plutocrats, President Rubio will look to gut the usual suspects: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. With America's population over age 65 forecast to grow from around 50 million today to roughly 85 million over the next 30 years, Rubio's guiding principle is "I'm against anything that is bad for my mother." Other people's mothers and fathers are a different story. In addition to raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for future Social Security recipients, Sen. Rubio has endorsed a Medicare "premium support" system along the lines the CBO repeatedly forecast would dramatically shift health care costs to future seniors.
Then there's Obamacare. Like the Romney/Ryan ticket four years ago (and just about every GOP scheme for the last 25 years), Rubio has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its replacement with tax credits for individuals to purchase "consumer-centric" plans. The Medicaid expansion now adopted by 31 states would be rolled back, with the remaining funds divvied up as block grants to the states. The result of Rubio's "free market option" would be millions of Americans left uninsured and millions more underinsured.
To achieve his kamikaze mission, Sen. Rubio has been willing—and able—to do serious harm to the American people. As Congress reached the brink of government shutdown and debt ceiling default in the summer and fall of 2013, Rubio announced he was willing to kill the patient. Publishing "Shut Down ObamaCare, Not Government" in Red State that July, Rubio warned that the Affordable Care Act will "lead to America's decline, because it emulates what other nations have tried." Then he repeated his inverted extortion argument from Bizarro Republican America that has drawn only derision and laughs in the real one:
Defunding ObamaCare is a critical first step to preventing all this, and this September, we need the American people to stand with us in demanding that not another cent be spent on implementing ObamaCare. At that point, the President will have a decision to make: sign it and keep the government open, or veto it and shut down the government.
In response to Rubio's childish tantrum and infantile logic, Paul Krugman recalled Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union address description of Southern slave interests threatening secession if Northerners voted in Lincoln's party:
That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
When it comes to Americans' insurance plans, Marco Rubio has no problem with that.
Despite the fact that President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug program continues to use an almost identical mechanism, Rubio and other Republicans quickly targeted the Obamacare "risk corridors" they deemed a "bailout" for destruction. And they succeeded. In the last budget agreement, Rubio and company secured $2.5 trillion in funding cuts to the insurers (most of them co-ops) whose premium receipts did not keep up with the claims they paid out. The result was that Uncle Sam only paid the 12 cents on the dollar they were owed under the risk corridor program. That, along with their actuarial shortfalls, led to the market withdrawal or outright failure of more than a dozen private insurers, including Oregon-based Moda. Ultimately, several hundred thousand people needed to select new coverage. As Charles Gaba of ACASignups put it two weeks ago:
Congratulations, Marco Rubio! You may have just helped kill a PRIVATE insurance carrier!
It's all in a day's work for Mr. Moderate. In November, young Mr. Rubio piggy-backed on Donald Trump's proposal to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States by declaring that the government should close "whatever facility is being used -- it's not just a mosque -- any facility that's being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at." This week, Rubio denounced President Obama's speech at a Baltimore area mosque by criticizing "this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that." In December, would-be President Rubio slammed the landmark international climate agreement in Paris as an "unfunny joke." Then in January, he offered one of his own, laughing at the massive blizzard that killed 30 in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. It's no wonder Paul Krugman couldn't help but get snarky about the emerging conventional wisdom about Rubio's performance in Iowa:
Let me add that someone horrifying also came in third. Marco Rubio may seem less radical than Cruz or Trump, but his substantive policy positions are for incredibly hawkish foreign policy, wildly regressive tax policy, kicking tens of millions of people off health insurance, and destroying the environment. Other than that, he's a moderate.
Of course, you don't have to take Krugman's word for it—or mine—that the supposedly mainstream, establishment Marco Rubio is a poster child for the worst excesses of the radical right. As Rush Limbaugh explained to his listeners on Tuesday, "Rubio Is not an establishment moderate."
Accepting the Republican Party's nomination for president in 1964, the godfather of modern conservatism Barry Goldwater famously declared, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Fifty-two years later, the mythmakers on the right are apparently turning Goldwater's formula on its head for Marco Rubio.
Moderation in the pursuit of extremism is no vice.