WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) presidential campaign is up in arms against The New York Times for raising questions about the senator's finances and his and his spouse's tendency to drive above the speed limit. A spokesman complained Tuesday that the "elitist" paper was unfairly targeting "Marco and his family."
There's nothing inherently malicious about airing a candidate's finances -- in fact, it's just good journalism. But what is perhaps more interesting and relevant, given his newly announced run for the White House, is what Rubio would do to aid ordinary Americans who share the senator's difficulties with issues like student loans and mortgage payments.
The Times on Tuesday reported concerns with the senator's "imprudent" decisions made in the past 15 years, including his "penchant to spend heavily on luxury items" like an $80,000 speedboat; his "inattentive accounting" with local government fees; his "unwise" decision to liquidate a retirement account; and his questionable move to use a Republican credit card for personal expenses. The spending is contrasted with Rubio's financial obligations, one of which was a hefty student loan debt amounting to approximately $150,000 that he paid off in 2012 with proceeds from his autobiography.
But what did Rubio actually propose to do on the issue of ballooning student loans while in the Senate? In July of 2014, he co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would have eased the burden on borrowers by establishing a federal student loan repayment program based on one's income. The proposal was similar to President Barack Obama's initiative, which capped repayments at 10 percent of income.
“Our current loan repayment system often turns what should be reasonable debts into crippling payments,” Rubio and Warner said in statement announcing the legislation. “Some graduates find they are forced to work multiple jobs, often in fields they didn’t train for, simply to avoid defaulting on student loans.”
In February of 2014, Rubio proposed a “Student Investment Plan" that would have let corporate firms cover tuition costs in exchange for a fixed percentage of a graduate’s income for a set number of years.
But Rubio hasn't always been in favor of easing the burden of student loans. Earlier this year, he joined his Republican colleagues in voting to block an increase in funding for Pell Grants over the next 10 years. In March, he voted, on party line, to block an amendment offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would have allowed borrowers to refinance at interest rates from the 2013-2014 academic year. Two years prior, Rubio voted in favor of an amendment proposed by his 2016 presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act but also stripped out money for Pell Grants and historically black colleges and $2 billion community colleges. While serving in the Florida state house, Rubio also supported budgets that called for increases to tuitions of in-state college students.
Also of interest in the Times analysis of Rubio's finances is his mortgage. By 2005, Rubio owned two homes, with the combined mortgages totaling over $794,000. Three years later, his liabilities increased once more when he took out a $135,000 home-equity loan for improvements on his new home. His Tallahassee home, meanwhile, nearly went into foreclosure over five months of missed payments. Rubio freed himself of the liability when he finally sold the home -- at a loss -- earlier this week.
Given the difficulties he faced with the issue, one might expect Rubio to have done more to address a burden many homeowners struggle with across the country. Unlike his personal experience with student loans, however, Rubio's legislative record in the Senate on the matter is pretty thin. He has supported either eliminating or privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two big government-controlled housing finance companies, a stance largely in line with the rest of the Republican Party. And he has blamed the 2008 housing crisis on "reckless government policies," a claim with little evidence to back it up.
Like many Americans, Rubio had trouble managing his pocketbook (and, yes, he even earned an occasional speeding ticket). His personal story is likely to endear him with working class voters, as his campaign is quick to point out. But often overlooked in the dramatic rise of the young Florida Republican is the one advantage many Americans were not so lucky to have -- a billionaire patron that has steadily advanced Rubio's personal and legislative fortunes. Norman Braman, a Florida auto dealer, has bankrolled Rubio's campaigns, provided him employment as a lawyer, helped cover his job as a college instructor, and now is expected to contribute $10 million to the senator's bid for the White House.