WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio isn't sure if he'll ultimately vote for the Republican budget this week.
That uncertainty will not prevent the Florida senator from introducing at least 20 amendments that closely resemble the hawkish foreign policy and middle-class-focused domestic policy agenda he talked up in stump speeches last year on the trail.
Rubio's amendments cover everything from changes to welfare and school choice (issues he's been talking about around the country for months now) to increasing the defense budget and cutting foreign aid to groups in Palestine "because of these entities' anti-Israel behavior and increasing foreign assistance for missile defense programs in Israel."
The Florida senator seems to be taking an early advantage of the opportunity to get some of his ideas onto the Republicans' budget — in a way other 2016 contenders are not. Sen. Ted Cruz, who launched his presidential bid earlier this week, has been traveling and not yet introduced anything as of Wednesday afternoon. A spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul said no decision had been made on if he'd introduce anything.
Senators often use the amendment process to put up legislation they can hail down the road in campaign ads (or force other senators to make uncomfortable votes).
Even if Rubio gets everything he wants on the budget, though, he wouldn't commit to voting for the final product telling reporters Wednesday he has "concerns about a lot of the ways the numbers add up," and he was continuing to look at them. But even if he doesn't vote for it and some of his amendments will fail, it's an opportunity to lay down a real marker on where his priorities are heading into 2016.
Other amendments Rubio will introduce include one dealing with religious freedom and another to repeal Obamacare's "risk corridors"— again, something Rubio has pushed for over a year. Rubio's first move was to introduce an amendment to increase defense spending along with Sen. Tom Cotton and he spoke on the floor to argue that "defense spending should be driven by the strategy."
"In essence, to put it succinctly, we should not have a strategy that's based on limited resources: 'We're going to have to do the best we can with limited resources,'" Rubio said. "We should first outline a strategy."
The message in the amendment is clear: Rubio wants to been seen as serious about defense and his foreign policy credentials, and show what he plans to do about it. Rubio and Cotton's amendment would boost defense spending to numbers projected by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2012 to $661 billion.
"It increases the funding to the Gates number which is the last time a group of bipartisan experts told us what the defense needs were for our country," Rubio told reporters on Wednesday. "We'll hopefully get a vote on that and see how it plays out."