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State of the Union: Obama and Rubio go head to head on the middle class (+video)

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Expecting Obama’s focus on the middle class, Rubio came right back at him.

“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington,” said Rubio, seen as a likely GOP prospect for the 2016 presidential race.  “It comes from a vibrant free economy, where people can risk their own money to open a business, and when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs.”

Perhaps anticipating the Democratic counterpunch, that the Republican approach means “you’re on your own,” Rubio stated that “of course” there is a role for government – for safety, enforcing rules, and “providing some security against the risks of modern life.” He spoke fondly of his retiree neighbors in a working-class neighborhood in Miami, who receive Social Security and Medicare. And he affirmed his support for federal financial aid for college, as a recipient himself who, he said, had just finished paying off his $100,000 in loans.

The two speeches, both combative in tone, captured the essential differences between the two parties – and probably accomplished little in advancing policy amid partisan polarization and gridlock.  Whatever resolution is to come over the spending cuts known as the “sequester,” a threatened government shutdown, and the next debt ceiling crisis is likely to happen behind closed doors.

In his address, Obama lamented the state of affairs in Washington.

“The greatest nation on earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” he said.

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