The Tea Partier Takes Center Stage

Republican Senator Marco Rubio stakes out a hard line on spending.

March 14, 2011 -- Even before he took the oath of office, Marco Rubio arrived in Washington with star power. He was, after all, the original tea party insurgent, forcing an incumbent governor out of the Republican primary and sailing to victory in a three-way general election. Conservatives hailed him as a future president and he instantly became the most high profile Hispanic Republican in the country.

Sen. Rubio has taken a low-key approach during his first two months in office, focusing on Florida issues and learning the ropes. But he is now stepping forward with a hardline position on government spending that will put him at odds with his party's leadership but will once again make him a hero to tea party conservatives.

His first move: announcing his opposition to the short-term funding bill drafted by House Republicans. The bill would cut spending by $6 billion and keep the government running for three weeks while Democrats and Republicans negotiate a long-term spending bill.

The Republican leadership in the House and Senate both support the bill as a necessary step to preventing a government shutdown that keeps a Republican promise to cut spending, but to Rubio it just doesn't go far enough.

"I did not come to the U.S. Senate to be part of some absurd political theater," Rubio said in a statement announcing his opposition to the measure. "Running the government on the fumes of borrowed spending is unacceptable, short-sighted and dangerous."

Warning of a impending "debt disaster" Rubio lashes out at the "absurdity" of the Congressional Democrats for opposing insufficient cuts and "the lack of leadership" from the White House, but there is also an implicit criticism of Republican leaders for their timidity in dealing with the issue.

"While attempts at new spending reductions are commendable, we simply can no longer afford to nickel-and-dime our way out of the dangerous debt America has amassed," Rubio said. "Every senator and representative should feel ashamed if they have to go home again, look their constituents in the eye, and explain why nothing is being done about our debt crisis."

With talk like that, Rubio is poised to become Congress's most high-profile tea partier, taking a central role in the budget battles ahead.