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Marco Rubio to cast first vote, co-sponsor first bill -- health care repeal

In a wide ranging interview with Florida reporters, the Florida senator talked about his impressions of last night's State of the Union Speech, fears about government overspending and his take on the Senate's Tea Party caucus and whether it's necessary.

He said he hadn't yet joined any caucuses, but planned to meet with the Tea Party caucus founders "to get their sense of what they want the caucus to be about."

He said he questions the use of aTea Party, asking, "Is it a good idea to have a Tea Party caucus? Because really what I think the strength of the Tea Party is that comes from the grass roots. That it is not a political organization, it's not something run by politicians or people seeking higher office, but rather it is a movement of every day citizens from all walks of life.. That's the strength of the Tea Party that it's not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a Tea Party caucus could intrude on that."

He said he does plan to join the Republican Steering Committee, a conservative group that has been long established and meets to talk policy. He noted the group has staffers and "has the infrastructure in place to provide resources that those of us who believe in center right limited government, free enterprise can rely on..

"The fundamental question I have -- and there might be a good reason for it -- is what's the difference between the Tea Party caucus and what already exists in the steering committee?" Rubio said.

Caucus founder Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul declined to stop to talk about Rubio's non-embrace of the caucus, telling reporters to call his office.

Rubio said he'll take his first vote today -- on a resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He'll also co-sponsor his first bill -- joining 33 other Senate Republicans endorsing South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's effort to repeal the sweeping health care bill.

He said he was pleased to hear President Barack Obama say last night that he won't sign bills with earmarks in them.

"Obviously I supported that during the campaign," Rubio said. But he said the speech underscored stark differences between the two parties: "There's general consensus about our goals," he said. "The major disagreement is how to accomplish them."

He said Obama suggested "more government spending, more goverment intervention, involvement in the American economy is the way to go."

"What allows our economy to grow in a vibrant way is that people have the confidence to start a new business," Rubio said. "And they're not going to do that in an economy that's threatened by high regulatory benchmarks, that's threatened by uncertainty over the application of the health care bill."

Obama called development of high speed rail critical, but Rubio said he doesn't believe its an economic development project. "It may have merit as a transportation project," he said, but not as an economy booster. He said he's got questions about whether high speed in Florida can attract ridership, "but the bigger issue is ... 'How are we paying for it?' " he said. "I think every spending project has to be scrutinized."