For anyone struggling to overcome an addiction, acknowledging the problem is the first step toward recovery.

The federal government has a spending problem that would put it in the addiction category. In order to break free, our elected leaders in Washington, beginning with the president, must admit to it. A problem can't be solved if it isn't acknowledged.

In last night's State of the Union speech, the president wrapped his strategy to boost the middle class around government programs. A recurring theme in Obama's address was that we can't cut our way to prosperity by eliminating federal programs, which was an an obvious shot against his opponents in the Republican-controlled House. The Republican response to the president, meanwhile, is that you can't spend your way to prosperity.

These conflicting philosophies divide the two parties in Congress now and will continue to be the wedge separating them through the next presidential election and beyond.

Just last Sunday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi challenged those calling for more cuts in government spending, stating that any charges that there's a spending problem is a "false argument." The speaker said what congressional leaders need to address is the budget deficit problem.

For once, Pelosi is correct in citing a deficit problem. For each of the past four years, Obama has been in office the annual deficit exceeded $1 trillion and a total of $6 trillion was added to the national debt during his first term.

While Obama is suggesting a combination of cuts and tax hikes to close the gap, his opponents argue that the huge shortfall won't be remedied through tax increases alone. In the Republican rebuttal speech last night, Sen. Marco Rubio said that raising taxes and deficit spending are both growth killers for the economy.

In opposing Obama's plan to spur the economy through bigger government, Rubio espoused the need to boost the free enterprise system and loosen the regulations on businesses. He was correct in stating that government's role is limited by the U.S. Constitution.

Another area where Rubio scored points in last night's message was when he called out the president, and the Democratic Party in general, for attempting to paint Republicans as the party of the rich. Rubio said he still lives in the same working class neighborhood he grew up in and that his neighbors aren't millionaires but retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare.

"They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills," Rubio said. "They're immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy."

Speaking directly at Obama, Rubio said the tax increases and the deficit spending the president endorses will hurt middle class families, costing them their raises, their benefits and may even cost some of them their jobs. He said it will also hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security.

"So Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," Rubio said. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com