Washington – Rep. Kevin McCarthy tucked into a quick Chinese dinner late Tuesday, in his sparse, spacious office on the first floor of the Capitol. A handful of congressmen floated nearby, conversing with colleagues and staffers. The headlines on the well-thumbed Beltway newspapers strewn about were grim. McCarthy was anything but. As House Republicans tussle over spending, the man who counts the noses is keeping cool.
McCarthy, a youthful 46-year-old Californian, has been the House whip since January, but this week could be his toughest yet. House GOP leaders are battling with Senate Democrats over the size and scope of a resolution to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. For the moment, the federal government is running on the latest in a series of short-term guarantees, dubbed ‘continuing resolutions.’ With the current stop-gap set to expire on April 8, the pressure is building. If a deal is struck by leadership, it will be McCarthy’s responsibility to corral a bloc behind it.
But no deal is on the immediate horizon. Instead, Senate Democrats, sensing strife in House GOP ranks over the size of potential cuts, has reportedly offered $20 billion in reductions. That number, plus the $10 billion in short-term cuts already enacted, is about halfway toward the Republican plan, passed last month in the House, which cuts $61 billion in current-year spending. Senate Democrats are already arguing that they have gone far enough with their vocal offer, and that anything more would be extreme.
McCarthy, in an interview, tells NRO that House Republicans will not be bullied into accepting a vague offer from Senate Democrats. In fact, he says, the GOP will soon bring a bill to the House floor that chastises Harry Reid and company for their failure to pass an alternative spending plan. By publicizing how Democrats are handling the negotiations via a floor debate and a vote, McCarthy and the leadership hope to force their upper-chamber foes into action, or at least highlight their inaction.
“This bill will send them a message,” McCarthy says. “It will show the American public that they are not acting. Right now, [Sen. Charles] Schumer [D., N.Y.] is just putting this on us.”
McCarthy says that the House GOP’s floor strategy will attempt to hammer Democrats into putting their spending proposals on the table via legislation, not backroom whispers: “If they want to be lazy, we are saying with our new bill that we will fund the government, but we will fund the government at this level, because you won’t act.”
The new legislation, he predicts, will help to “unite” the GOP caucus by reasserting its cut-spending gusto. “You will see a lot of people vote for this,” he says. Any internal squabbles, he adds, have been based on “tactics, not principles.”
If Senate Democrats do not take the bait, and enact their own long-term spending package, the government could shut down, McCarthy acknowledges. That said, he believes that it will become clear in coming days that House Republicans have made every effort to avoid a shutdown.
Still, we ask, in such a scenario, could Republicans make a politically viable case about their negotiating decisions? “If the public looks at who acted and who has not, I think we can,” he replies.