"Nothing represents how special America is more than our middle class. And our challenge and our opportunity now is to create the conditions that allow it not just to survive, but to grow," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Tuesday when receiving his Leadership Award at a dinner hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation, a charitable organization named for the late New York congressman and Housing and Urban Development secretary.
Keynote speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate and chairman of the House Budget Committee, focused his remarks on poverty, a topic he brought up on the campaign trail, The Washington Post reported.
"Our poverty rates are the highest in a generation. Of the millions of children born into hardship, fewer and fewer are able to escape it," Ryan said.
Rubio and Ryan, both in their 40s and both already being mentioned as possible 2016 presidential candidates, spoke of the future in their remarks, with Ryan injecting calls for bipartisanship.
"We've got to set aside partisan considerations in favor of one overriding concern: How do we work together to repair the economy, to get people back on their feet?" Ryan said.
"Both parties tend to divide Americans into 'our voters' and 'their voters.' Let's be really clear: Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American," he said.
The federal government can play a vital role in encouraging economic growth, Rubio said while cautioning "big government is not effective government."
He also touched on subjects conservatives hold dear, such as education reform and expansion of domestic energy production.
Rubio didn't spend much time on immigration reform during his speech Tuesday, but he did mention his parents' leaving Cuba for the United States.
"Whether or not the journey my parents made is still possible to all who are willing to work for it -- that's going to decide whether we decline or remain that special place," he said.