Ryan, Rubio Spotlight Poor, Middle Class

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"Our complicated and uncertain tax code is also hindering the creation of middle class jobs. You can't open or grow a business if your taxes are too high or too uncertain. And that's why I personally oppose the president's plan to raise taxes," Rubio said. "This isn't about a pledge. It isn't about protecting millionaires and billionaires. For me, it's about the fact that the tax increases he wants would fail to make even a small dent in the debt but it would hurt middle class businesses and the people who work for them."

And Ryan issued the following warning: "Look at the road we're on -- with trillion-dollar deficits every year. Even worse is the prospect of a debt crisis, which will come unless we do something very soon. When government's finances collapse, it's the most vulnerable that are the first victims, as we're seeing right now in Europe."

At the dinner, sponsored by the Jack Kemp Foundation, an organization set up to honor Kemp, a former cabinet secretary, member of Congress from New York and the 1996 GOP vice presidential nominee, the two lawmakers were seated at separate tables in an opulent ballroom at Washington's Mayflower Hotel. Rubio was accompanied by his wife, Jeanette.

Ryan, who served as the keynote speaker at the dinner honoring Rubio, joked about a common link with Kemp, who he called his "mentor."

"We both used to be the next vice president of the United States," he said.

He used the speech to call on Republicans to "carry on and keep fighting for the American Idea" at a time when the party is in the midst of a period of serious self-examination.

"The election didn't go our way, and the Republican Party can't make excuses," Ryan said. "We can't spend the next four years on the sidelines. Instead, we must find new ways to apply our timeless principles to the challenges of the day."

But despite the loss by the GOP ticket this fall, Ryan still pronounced himself "proud of our party" and "proud of Mitt Romney."

"He's a good man who did our nation a great service by making a big election about big ideas and offering serious solutions to serious problems and we thank him for doing that," Ryan said.

Still, it was evident that the wounds of Romney and Ryan's failed White House bid were fresh.

"We gave this race our all, and I'm grateful for the nomination," Ryan said. "I got to say. It is thrilling when your team trusts you with the ball -- and it's humbling when you advance the ball as far as you can, only to come up a little short."

But the night was not without a few lighthearted references to the campaign -- and potential primary battle -- to come.

In his introduction of Rubio, Jack Kemp's son, James Kemp, described the Florida senator as "the perfect nominee," before quickly correcting himself --"awardee."

And in his remarks Ryan congratulated Rubio on receiving the same leadership award from the foundation the Wisconsin congressman won one year ago.

"As you may know, Marco is joining an elite group of past recipients for this award. Two of us so far," Ryan said. "I'll see you at the reunion dinner -- table for two. You know any good diners in New Hampshire or Iowa?"

Rubio joined in on fueling the 2016 fire, saying, "Paul, thank you for the invitation to lunch in Iowa and New Hampshire, but I will not stand by and watch the people of South Carolina ignored."

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