On the eve of his judgment day in Florida, Philadelphia experts sound off on Marco Rubio's policies


On Tuesday, Republican voters in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida will cast their votes for one of the GOP’s four remaining candidates. Since 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump’s sweeping victories in the March 1 primaries, the Republican establishment has amped up its coalition efforts to "Stop Trump" and are relying on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to win his home state delegates and slow down Trump’s momentum.

Even though Rubio trails Trump by double digits in recent Florida polling, his policy proposals still represent a sampling of what the party establishment envisioned for a mainstream candidate — that is, before Trump arrived. 

With Rubio nearing the likely end of his 2016 presidential run, lets' look at the once-promising candidate's policy ideas, putting them under the scrutiny of Philadelphia political experts. 

Immigration Reform:

As a son to Cuban immigrants and senator to the state with the third-largest Latino population, Rubio’s proposals for immigration reform are divisive.

In 2013, the Florida senator was the young Republican star of the "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan group of eight senators who wrote the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill — which proposed strengthened border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — passed the Senate, but died in the House of Representatives.

Fast track to the contested 2016 Republican presidential primaries and Rubio has been attacked for supporting a bill that, according to numerous attacks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex), provided amnesty to illegal immigrants. Annenberg's FactCheck.org wrote that Cruz’s allegations aren’t correct, but do highlight Rubio’s challenge to make his immigration proposal appealing to the GOP's conservative base.

“[The bill] was so unpopular with a very conservative base. He has tried to disguise that,” local politics expert and St. Joseph’s University professor Randall Miller said.

Throughout the campaign trail Rubio has reiterated his three-step approach to reforming immigration in the U.S.

First, the Florida senator supports a piecemeal legislative approach that, as he wrote in his memoir "American Dreams", “would include securing the most vulnerable and most trafficked sectors of the southern border, mandatory E-Verify and the full implementation of an entry-exit tracking system.”

Second, the candidate advocates for a modernization of the immigration system toward a merit-based one that would grant visas according to skills. It is only after these measures are enacted that Rubio would support a 10-year path to citizenship for noncriminal, undocumented immigrants that pay a fine, learn English and pay taxes, according to his online campaign platform.

Rubio has consistently stated that, from his experience, the only way of enacting comprehensive immigration reform is by breaking it up into smaller bills. 

Miller, however, foresees potential problems with this approach as it would force Democrats to lose leverage on key components many legislators support, such as amnesty for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country.

“If you break it up, you’re not going to get things like amnesty,” Miller said. “That’s why the Democrats don’t want to break it up, because if they do there won’t be anything to trade.”

Miller pointed out that the coming Senate races would be very important in determining the makeup of Congress that would ultimately decide what sort of immigration bill a President Rubio could push through the legislative branch.

Repealing Obamacare

Like the vast majority of Republicans, Rubio has consistently vowed that — if elected president — he will lead the efforts to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Rubio claims that President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform bill has increased costs for families, eliminated formidable insurance plans and hurt the economy with its $1.2 trillion tax hike.

Democrats argue that 17.6 million people in the United States have gained medical insurance coverage as a result of Obamacare. It has lowered costs, successfully prohibited insurance companies to exclude patients with pre-existing conditions and kept children on their parents' insurance until age 26, supporters say.

Not only is there a disagreement among the political parties as to the merits of the Affordable Care Act, but an uncertainty among experts as to what would be the implications of its repeal.

“Actually repealing Obamacare would be quite challenging,” associate professor of political science Matthew Levendusky said. “You're kind of signaling your political identity as much as anything else, without necessarily understanding the implication of what that would be.”

Political commentators are uncertain as to how a repeal will affect newly insured, young adults aged 18 to 26, patients with pre-existing conditions and the expansion of Medicaid. The political science professor argued that there are components of the Affordable Care Act that have received favorable public support; these mandates might not necessarily be repealed.

Levendusky noted that for the last couple of years Republicans have been calling for the repeal of Obamacare without really specifying what policy would replace the law.

Although vague, Rubio’s healthcare proposals include an advanceable, refundable tax credit that Americans would use to purchase health insurance, insurance regulations reforms to lower costs and “saving and strengthening Medicare and Medicaid by placing them on fiscally-sustainable paths,” according to a POLITICO guest column he wrote. 

“The devil is in the details, as they say. It is a little unclear where the details of a lot of these [proposals] are,” Levendusky said. He pointed out that the repeal of Obamacare has become more of a talking point for Republicans, rather than a policy proposal.

If Rubio were elected president, the political viability of repealing Obamacare would ultimately rely on the sort of majority Republicans achieve in Congress.

“Nobody knows what is going to happen in the Senate,” said the public policy expert. “It is unlikely that Republicans will get a filibuster-proof majority, so I don’t see the pathway to doing much in the Senate. Democrats would fight hard to protect it."

This is the second in a series of articles analyzing the viability of the presidential candidates' policy proposals. See here for the first article about Bernie Sanders. 

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