House Op Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined us today to discuss the roll out of the House GOP’s budget plan:
HH: Happy St. Patrick’s Day, especially to my guest now, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. I hope you’re enjoying St. Patrick’s Day on the Hill, Leader.
KM: Hey, Erin go Bragh, man.
HH: All right, everyone had the green tie in the picture with the President. Was that a calming lunch? Did that go well today?
KM: I think it went well. I came in late. But we do it every single year, bring in and we always have a good topic and good fun. And then I was invited down to the White House, but I’m not able to make it, because I’m talking to you.
HH: All right, well, I’m flattered. I talked to Tom Price at the start of this show.
HH: The budget resolution is out. He is pretty comfortable he’s going to get it through the House with at least 218 votes. How do you see this playing out, Leader McCarthy?
KM: Well, I think it’s the biggest vote we have going forward, because one, when someone gets elected, the budget is the most important thing you can do, because it sets out your vision. But more importantly, knowing where we are with the rules of the Senate, and I’m one who believes those rules should be changed, because they’re not in the Constitution, it gives too much power to the minority. So if we do a budget, and the Senate does a budget, which they haven’t done for a number of years, then you merge together and you have what is called reconciliation. With that, you can pass different items with less than 60 votes, with just the 50. So knowing what the King/Burwell case is coming up, when you’re dealing with Obamacare and others, that could be an option. Tax reform, that’s something that, on the Bush tax cuts, how they were able to pass it. There’s a lot of avenues you can use it for, but you want to keep that wild card in your hand. And then the other items, why it’s so important with a budget, you can get in where you have 12 spending bills, and that deals with all these agencies. Think about going through regular order, meaning hasn’t happened in a long time. You move it through the House, and you move it through the Senate. That’s when we have some of our strongest say of reining in these agencies and changing a lot of, and directing where this funding should be, not going back to where the Democrats had it.
HH: Now Chairman Price said that between the Pentagon sequester budget and the OCO, the Overseas Contingency Operation fund, that you’ll get to $613 billion dollars in Defense spending. Do you think that number is solid in the Republican caucus?
KM: I think that number is what we can get to, because it puts you above where the President is. And think about this. The President put a budget out, but it’s not real. He never gets any votes for it. It never balances. But he also in there has tax increases, spending the others, and then he cuts Defense back later. And knowing where the world is, we’re less safe today than we were after 9/11. And the growth of ISIS, you look at what Russia is doing, the movement, we’ve got to be able to protect not only, make this world safe, but also ourselves. I’m not saying we put our men and women in a lot of places, but we’ve got to be able to defend. And a lot of that is determined of what we can and cannot do, and what other countries look at.
HH: Now that $613 is good for a one year fix. I’ve been talking to people off the record and on the record over the last couple of days.
HH: But it doesn’t do the long term return to the Gates baseline, which requires sequester reform. Do you see sequester reform happening this year, Kevin McCarthy?
KM: I don’t see it happening this year with this President, because sequester is in law. The difference is the budget never goes to the President, so it can’t change the law. If the President was to change sequester, which I would be engaged to on Defense, the President then asks for having it done on non-Defense spending. So it’s not a small number. It’s a large number. And then it takes the caps off of what we’ve been able to get to control the growth of government. We haven’t been able to do that with entitlements, but this is, but Defense has taken a disproportionate share of all these cuts.
HH: Agreed. Does it make sense to try and send a sequester relief bill independent of the budget through the Senate to see if it can get 60 votes there and send to the President?
KM: Oh, yes. I believe we should send what we believe always to the Senate to try to send it to the President. Make him debate and make him stand on what his beliefs are and what ours are. Show the country the differences.
HH: Now I was on the set of Meet the Press when you actually said for the first time the filibuster’s got to go. And I told Chuck he’d made some news. I don’t know if many people noted that. What do your colleagues on the Senate side say about that? And are you making progress in persuading them that that is in fact time for it to go away? The President broke it on nominees. Why keep it around if it’s just cutting our own agenda to slices?
KM: Well, I get some Senators who agree with me, some who say we’re very protective when we’re in the minority. I said you know what, if you keep that philosophy, you will do exactly that. You will be in the minority. And when you’re in the minority, they passed Obamacare. So I don’t quite understand why when the American people vote, and they gave somebody the majority, they expect you to be able to govern. They don’t expect the minority to be able to determine what can come up and what can’t. And when you watch Mr. Smith goes to Washington, a filibuster is somebody sits on the floor and talks until they can’t talk no more, and then you move it, not what Harry Reid is doing with this. And it was not, never used in this way. This is not in the Constitution. It’s a rule of the Senate, and I believe the American people expect something to happen in the Senate. Look what they’re doing now with human trafficking bills.
HH: Right, that’s also stalled because of a Hyde amendment-like restriction on the use of money in that bill, and I think that the leader is not going to allow that, the attorney general nomination to go forward. But have you got any Republican Senators to stand up and say yeah, McCarthy, you’re right on this, yet?
KM: Privately, they come to me and tell me that, yes.
HH: Okay, privately. But so the question…
KM: I will continue, they hear the mantra here from everybody, but you know what? I don’t want to see that we have a hundred and some bills stacked up in the Senate that’s passed the House, and people saying well, that’s just what happened before. And think about what the Democrats and how they’re using it today. They have voted on the Hyde Amendment numerous times, even just at the end of last year. This has been in the bill from the very beginning. And for them to shift right now and say something different, they’re playing political games.
HH: All right, now I want to go back to the budget one more time.
HH: 218 votes, you need to get that budget through, and it needs to get it through in a hurry so that reconciliation can follow, I assume, in early summer. Are you confident on that 218 vote number?
KM: Well, you know what? I’m not longer the whip, but we have passed the budget, and when I was whip, we passed these budgets with fewer Republicans. And it’s, this budget has really become the vision of the Republican Party, and I think it’s helped us keep the majority, and saying how, that we would balance in less than ten years, and the President’s budget would never balance. So if we can’t produce this, I don’t know why we’re here. So I feel confident that we’re going to be able to get it through.
HH: Are you at 90% or greater certainty, Kevin McCarthy?
KM: Yes, I am.
HH: All right, Leader, thank you, good to talk to you, Kevin McCarthy, leader of the House Republicans.
End of interview.