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WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., came to the National Press Club Tuesday to talk about Social Security and Medicare reform, but the press had a question for him that was more like the journalistic equivalent of "When did you stop beating your wife?"
The question was, "When did you become a climate-change denier?"
After Rubio presented his ideas on retirement security reform, he answered questions submitted on cards by members of the media. The most pointed questions, by far, zeroed in on his recent remarks on the futility of trying to legislate the climate.
Rubio caused a firestorm in the establishment media after his comments Sunday to ABC's Jonathan Karl.
“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it … and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said.
A series of headlines practically accused him of scientific heresy:
- Huffington Post: "The Ignorance of Denial"
- Washington Post: "Marco Rubio Makes a Wrong Turn on Climate Change"
- New York Times: "Marco Rubio Disqualifies Himself"
- PolicyMic: "Marco Rubio Just Said One of the Most Absurd Anti-Science Things You'll Hear"
- Think Progress: "Marco Rubio Goes Full-On Climate Denier"
- Chicago Tribune: "Rubio's Hard Line on Climate Change"
- Huffington Post: "The Dirty Energy President"
Tuesday was the first chance for individual members of the media to talk to Rubio about climate change. Their questions clearly were confrontational, even though scientists have measured no global warming in 18 years, while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar.
Additionally, scientist Art Robinson, who spearheaded the Petition Project, has gathered the signatures of 31,487 scientists who agree that there is "no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate."
Nonetheless, the first question from the press for Rubio presumed the science was settled and that climate change was a fact.
"Earlier this week you rejected scientists' assertions that human activity is causing climate change and that actions taken to curtail such activity will destroy our economy. How would you propose that the country weather any dramatic shifts in climate and the impacts such shifts could have on the quality of life?"
The second question asked the senator to prove a negative – to prove climate change is not happening.
"What information, reports, studies or otherwise [sic] are you relying on to inform and reach your conclusion that human activity is not to blame for climate change?"
The third question used figures of unsure origin to predict a catastrophe that is "likely."
"The U.S. Geological Survey has warned that sea level could rise by two feet by 2060, imperiling Florida's coastline. How should the United States prepare itself and its citizens to deal with rising sea levels and the catastrophic flooding that is likely to follow?"
Those statistics were mentioned in a Senate hearing on Miami Beach last week. But they appeared to come from a NASA study that stated, according to National Geographic, that a sea rise of four feet caused by melting glaciers could occur in about two centuries, though "it could proceed faster or slower."
For his part, Rubio essentially reiterated the points he made to Karl on Sunday.
He began by stating something obvious but often overlooked.
"Of course the climate is changing, because the climate is always changing."
That's not the issue, said the senator. This issue is whether legislative proposals could do anything about it.
Rubio said that point was especially pertinent, considering half of the new emissions on the planet are coming from developing countries. And half of those are coming from China, which "is not going to follow whatever laws we pass."
The senator said he was in favor of developing technology that makes existing fuels cleaner and more efficient.
"But I won't tell people that by changing our energy policy it would have any measurable impact on our weather," he said.
Passing bills won't cause fewer hurricanes and tornadoes, he summed up.
Even though Rubio is accused of being a climate-change denier, he seemed to go out of his way not to deny that the climate is changing. He seemed to simply want to make clear his belief that grand schemes to change the climate will have no effect on global temperatures, while bankrupting the economy.
WND's question, which was not asked by the moderator, would have been: "Do you believe it was fair of Jonathon Karl to ask why you disagreed with the science on climate change, when the science is not settled?"
As for the topic he was there to speak about, Rubio did not call for privatizing Social Security, or allowing "private-investment accounts," as the GOP advocated under President George W. Bush. The senator did, however, call for major reform. And, he called for changes nearly identical to plans by Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., to reform Medicare.
On Social Security, Rubio called for:
- Raising the age Americans qualify for standard benefits to above 67, to account for longer life expectancies.
- Means testing benefits so that low income seniors are not treated the same as wealthier retirees.
- Waiving the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll taxes for seniors who have reached retirement age and continue to work.
- Allowing Americans who don't have employer-sponsored savings plans to enroll in the federal Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP.
The TSP, used by federal employees and members of Congress, allows tax-free contributions into investment savings accounts for retirement.
On Medicare, Rubio endorsed a "premium-support" plan that would give seniors money to purchase health insurance from a private company or from traditional Medicare.
The federal government would provide a generous but fixed amount of money that could be used toward the premium. If there was money left over, a person could keep it. If there was not enough money, the person would have to pay the difference.
Rubio claimed the system creates competition among providers and uses market forces to keep costs down, as, he claimed, has been so successful with the Medicare part D plan.
The senator promised no changes would affect seniors aged 55 or older.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth