Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, is a Tea Party favorite. / J. Scott Applewhite, AP
WASHINGTON -- Saying "the state of the economy is tenuous," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Tuesday night issued a Tea Party critique of President Obama's State of the Union address and called for smaller government, deep federal spending cuts and congressional term limits.
"The path we are on is not sustainable, but few in Congress or in this administration seem to recognize that their actions are endangering the prosperity of this great nation," Paul warned in remarks delivered minutes after the president spoke and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered the official Republican response.
The Kentuckian's address was his most visible to date, delivered on a national stage not only as an answer to Obama but also as a possible prelude to a White House bid in 2016.
Rubio, also in the Tea Party wing, is another potential presidential contender who was featured on the cover of Time magazine this week as "The Republican Savior."
Elected to the Senate in 2010, Paul's iconoclastic relationship with Washington was on full view in his speech as he criticized his party and the Democrats and urged Americans not to accept the status quo. He delivered his remarks from a room at the National Press Club, two blocks from the White House.
Paul reiterated his criticisms that Washington spends too much, blaming both parties for "protecting their sacred cows ... (and) backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses."
"It is time for a new bipartisan consensus," he said. "It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud."
Although defense industry officials and heads of social service programs are warning of massive job layoffs from automatic spending cuts (called the sequester) scheduled to start March 1, Paul defended the reductions.
"Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America's credit rating," he said. "Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess."
"I thought I knew how bad it was in Washington," he added. "But it is worse than I ever imagined, Congress is debating the wrong things. Every debate in Washington is about how much to increase spending -- a little or a lot; about how much to increase taxes -- a little or a lot."
Americans should demand that Washington change its ways, Paul said.
"If Congress refuses to obey its own rules, if Congress refuses to pass a budget, if Congress refuses to read the bills, then I say: 'Sweep the place clean. Limit their terms and send them home.' " he said.
Paul also reached out to Latino voters who have all but abandoned the GOP over the immigration issue.
"We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future," Paul said. "We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities. We must be the party that says, 'If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.' "
This was the third year that the GOP's Tea Party wing offered a separate response to the president's annual address.
Businessman and presidential hopeful Herman Cain gave the Tea Party response last year. In 2011, the response was delivered by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also a 2012 GOP White House candidate.
Paul was asked to speak by Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express.
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