Senator Marco Rubio on Defunding Obamacare, Aid to Egypt, and the “Common Core”
HH: I’m joined now by United State Senator Marco Rubio. Senator, welcome back. Good to talk to ya.
MR: Oh, thank you for having me.
HH: I want to begin with the Lee Letter and then move to Common Core, perhaps after the break. Let’s start with the Lee Letter because a lot of Republicans love this defund Obamacare strategy but they are also defense minded like you are, like I am, and I’m don’t know you defund and at the same time defend. How to you save the Department of Defense from the defund strategy?
MR: Well, first of all, where, we should pass a short term, look I’m not in favor of sort term budgets. I’d much rather have a long-term budget that balances for the country, but what I’m saying that this Obamacare thing is such a mess and is so bad for the country that I am willing to make an exception and vote for a short term budget that funds the government, that funds the Senate, it makes your Social Security checks delivered on time. The only thing it shouldn’t fund is the implementation of Obamacare because of the disaster that it is. And I think we should pass a bill that does that and then the President needs to decide whether he’s willing to veto a budget that keeps the government open because it doesn’t fund Obamacare.
HH: If we get right down to short strokes and you’ve done that and the President has vetoed it, somehow you got it through the Senate, would you be willing to see the government shut down including DOD, Senator Rubio?
MR: Well, the question would actually be on the President. Is the President willing to see the government shut down? We’re the ones that are saying that we’re prepared to fund the government. He’s the one that’s saying he’s not prepared to fund the government unless it funds Obamacare. And so the fundamental question that he’ll need to answer and his allies in the Congress will need to answer is, is Obamacare more important than the country? Is Obamacare more important than funding defense, because I think that’s a false choice. I don’t think that they should put us in that position that they are putting us in now which says that unless the budget funds Obamacare we are willing to get—go to a showdown.
HH: Will enough of Republicans stand firm to force that using their 60 vote?
MR: No, and I think that’s the critical question right now, is can we hold enough Republicans, and I do think it’s a little bit discouraging that we have to convince our colleagues that this is an issue that’s worth going to the mat on. That this is an issue that’s worth drawing the line in the sand and the question that I’ve been asking today of the floor, where we had a pretty extensive time to speak about it and, the question I asked is, if Republicans are not willing to draw a line in the sand on Obamacare, then what issue are we willing to draw a line in the sand on? I mean, I can’t think of a contemporary issue that is more damaging to the country and more important for us to solve than Obamacare because every single day that it is being implemented we are hearing the horror stories of what it’s doing to jobs, what it’s doing to the middle class paychecks, how in my home state of Florida the Insurance Commissioner announced that rates on individual policies could go up from 30 to 40 percent, and this is just devastating stuff. If we are not willing to fight on that, what are we willing to fight on?
HH: New York Times today has a story about Hill staffers who are going to get totally screwed by Obamacare here and about a couple of months. Their premiums are going to go up to about $11,000 per year. They get no federal subsidy of that. Is there opportunity to leverage that, some of those staffers are obviously Harry Reid’s staff. Is there any sense that perhaps we could at least get a delay of the individual mandate in exchange for fixing some of the problems that even Democrats understand?
MR: Well, curious enough, they exempt committee staffers and they exempt leadership staffers so, in fact this only applies to staff of the rank and file and to the members—the individual members of the House and Senate that will see this happen to them as well. And I do think there is a point of leverage. There on the other hand, look, I don’t think the laws of health insurance for us should be any different than they are for the rest of the country. So, I’m not prepared to support a change to health insurance policies for members of Congress and their staff, unless they’re prepared to make the same change for people all across the country.
HH: Leadership…I had no idea. Leadership…
MR: Well, that’s the benefits of riding the rules, right?
HH: There is. Oh, my God. That stinks! After the break I’ll do Common Core. Before the break, we’ve got a minute-and-a-half, the Egyptian crisis is convulsing the largest more important Arab state in the world with a long border with Israel. The President seems confused. What ought to be the American policy vis-a-vie the counter coup the Islamist in Egypt, Mark Rubio?
MR: First, we have to define our goal. Our goal and needs are pretty straight forward. What we want is a secular democratic and stable government that does four critical things. It cooperates on counter-terrorism, it provides internal security so that their economy can grow, it lives up to the Camp David accords and it protects religious minorities. And our foreign aid toward that country should be geared towards those four goals and conditioned on those four things. So, you’re making progress on those four things, you can receive foreign aid and your foreign aid has to be stuff you need, not F-16s. You don’t need F-16s for those four things. What you need is more capacity building, for example, so that your police department, when they are burning down a church, can respond to that and fight off the rioters that are doing that.
HH: Now the President suspended the delivery of some military hardware post counter coup. Was that the right signal to send to CC and his allies?
MR: Well, again, the hardware that he’s delayed delivery on is F-16s which are used for external threats. Egypt doesn’t have any external threats. The threats the Egypt are all internal, domestic, Islamists that want to turn the country into another Islamist run and nation. Those are the real threats they face internally. They don’t need F-16s for that.
HH; Well, I. . . .
MR: What they need is capacity building for their police departments, for their counter terrorism efforts, so that they can grow their economy so they can protect religious minorities, so they can be a democratic and secular stable government that, that, provides for their people the kind of feature that many of them want.
HH: So, thus far you’re okay with the Obama Administration approach?
MR: No, I’m not because they don’t—they—the bottom line is that they don’t have a strategy on foreign aid. They think that the only options we have are to suspend aid or to continue the aid we were giving. And my argument is that our aide towards Egypt needs to be fundamentally restructured. Quite frankly, our aid towards everyone needs to be fundamentally restructured so that we ensure that our aide is going towards two things: advancing our national security and our national interests and advancing our values as well.
HH: Senator Rubio, tell us about your position on the Common Core.
MR: Well, first of all I don’t have any problem with curriculum reform. In fact, at the state level when I was speaker of the house I supported extensive curriculum reform in Florida because I think our kids are gonna need to be prepared to compete in the 21st Century. My problem is when that issue now falls under the preview of the federal government which has increased only what’s happening so I think this started out well intentioned by the Governor’s Association and others to come up with a template that states could borrow from. The problem is that since then, the Department of Education has been using it as a hammer over states, telling states that if they want to waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act they have to follow Common Core. If they want, if their funding could potentially be one day be tied to Common Core and that’s where I have a problem because the federal government never knows when to stop. When starts taking, it never gives back and, quite frankly, I don’t think we need a National School Board. I think that we have local school boards for a reason because that’s where parents can most influence the process and get good results. So, my problem is now the way it’s being used is not the way it was ever intended to be used. It’s the sort of national requirement or some national platform of template that the U.S. Department of Education now uses to get states to do what they want them to do.
HH: Now, beginning just a couple of months ago, many people began to approach me at forums that I was doing and bring this up and I’ve been befuddled. Yesterday, I talked to Bill Bennett about it and Jay Mathews and obviously I’m talking to you and Governor Bush about it today, was the original idea good and does that original idea still appeal to you of establishing goals that everyone ought to be able to say their local school district can achieve when it comes to learned knowledge?
MR: Well, I think the goals are best defined at the state and local level because every state is going to want to a curriculum that perhaps is more sensitive to the industries in that state or to what the learning needs are in that state vis-a-vie and other places and, by the way, it drives competition. I mean one of the good things about having 50 states is that they compete with each other and that drives quality and education is an example. The problem is, like any other endeavor, once you wrote in the Department of Education and they start telling states if you want a waiver from No Child Left Behind, we’re going to want you to do this and they point to one central and identifiable document that applies to the whole country, that’s where you put yourself in a position now where the federal government is doing something that is never intended to be a part of. So, I think the goal of curriculum reform is still a noble one. I think it’s best done at the local level. If a group of national leaders want to get together and make suggestions, there’s no problem with that. But once the Department of Education starts using those suggestions as a requirement of getting waivers or funding or what have you, then that becomes problematic.
HH: So, as 2014 approaches and people go out there and campaign, what ought Republican conservatives to be saying about education reform? What are the key reforms, because I think this is our issue. I think we win with this, but what part do we win with?
MR: Well, I think there need to be fundamental reforms as there are education systems and again they should be let at the state and local level. For example, I think that we need to have more career education in our high schools. There are a lot of kids that don’t have to go to 4-year universities, but we’ve conditioned our kids to believe that if they don’t go to a 4-year university and get a degree, that they’ve somehow failed. The truth is a lot of kids want to fix airplane engines and they should be able to graduate from high school with a high school diploma and an industry certification that allows them to do that. Beyond that I would say that higher education should no longer just mean a 4-year degree. There are many, many well paying middle class jobs that are available to people that have more than a high school diploma, but less than 4 years of college. We should incentivize more of those programs. One of things that I’m most excited about is something that is called Self Directed Learning, and that allows you to go online and take an economics course from Harvard and a statistics course from MIT. It also allows you to maybe take a few lectures at your local community college, maybe get some work experience credit and you’re able to combine all those things together into a degree program an we’ve got to make sure that our federal financial aid programs don’t discriminate against that sort of Self Directed Learning which is now available to us. But this one size fits all approach to education that we have in America today is not taking advantage of technological advances and, quite frankly, is not taking, addressing the 21st Century needs that a global economy demand of our people.
HH: Have you had a chance to talk about this with Jeb Bush yet?
MR: Well he was an education leader in Florida. He was one of the first in the country to implement learning games, measuring learning games at the state level And, of course, other states have followed that. And the next step in reforming education after you have accountability in place is educational standards that prepare people for the 21st Century. Again, nothing wrong with those things, those are positive things and I was a leader, I tried to be a leader in that when I was in the Florida legislature a speaker where it becomes complicated is when the Department of Education starts saying unless you are following these requirements that have been laid out at the national level by a group, then we’re not going to give you waivers and we’re going to make life hard on you. That’s where I think this really runs into a mess.
HH: Uh, Senator Marco Rubio. Thanks for joining us and staying through the break. I appreciate it. Talk to you again soon.
MR: Thank you for having me back.