The 112th Congress had an interesting year in 2012 -- and 2013 is shaping up to be even more eventful for the 113th Congress, which was sworn in earlier this month.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, one of the most powerful figures in the House of Representatives, sat down with Californian staff writer Steven Mayer on Friday afternoon to look back at the fiscal cliff deal, the mini-revolt against Speaker of the House John Boehner and to look ahead at what McCarthy expects will be a contentious year.
"It's not going to be pretty," McCarthy said of the months to come in Washington, D.C.
Despite the gulf that exists between many Republicans and Democrats in Congress, McCarthy says he's optimistic that real progress can be made.
In light of an increasing number of mass shootings as well as the recent local incident at Taft Union High School, do you support any measures being talked about from both sides of the debate? These ideas include limits on the size of ammunition magazines, an assault weapons ban, closing background check and gun show loopholes, placing armed guards at every school, creating some sort of database of disturbed or mentally ill people, and so on.
McCARTHY: I think one of the core things that are missing is about the mental health. What I want to do -- and not because of this issue here, but any major issues (including) the financial meltdown and others -- I'd rather collect all the data.
I don't want to move any legislation in an emotional sense. I want to make sure we solve the problem.
And the one thing I have always found in many of these cases it becomes the common denominator, a mental health issue. I think that's one of the core issues we have to go at.
I'd rather get all the facts and make sure mental health is a part of it. I'm waiting to see, I know the vice president said he will lay something out at his proposal ... I think maybe next week.
I know there's a lot of talk on both sides, the president saying that he wants to do some executive order -- I think that's wrong. Whatever is talked about should run through a process, a legislative process.
TBC: Do you support California's assault weapons ban?
McCARTHY: You know, I'm an individual who believes in the Second Amendment. I'm an individual that does own -- I have a safe that my weapons go in. I am an avid hunter. I believe there is a responsibility to the individual that owns the weapons ...
I want to get to the core of the problem, not eliminate individuals that are law-abiding citizens and others, infringe on their rights. To me, I want to look at it all and base it on facts.
TBC: Just to clarify, as far as assault weapons go, do you think California law goes too far?
McCARTHY: When I look at the (California) legislature, they're trying to make you register if you want to buy ammo, they want to make you pay a fine to buy ammo -- I think those kind of things are infringing on my rights, and I think part of that does go a little too far.
TBC: Do you think the average person ... should be able to own an AR-15 or an M-16 kind of a gun?
McCARTHY: The majority of people that go out, buy a hunting rifle and others, and I think from that standpoint they have a Second Amendment right to do that... From what I see of individuals trying to limit law-abiding citizens for it, I take real concern with it.
TBC: Financial experts have said that not passing a fiscal cliff deal would have been devastating to the economy. In light of that, it appears your decision to vote against the bill had to be based on one of three things: You didn't believe the experts, you didn't care about the impacts -- which I can't imagine -- or you knew it was going to pass but you wanted to appear anti-tax.
McCARTHY: Anytime I take legislation up for a vote, I analyze what is in the policy itself. A lot of people say, just the deadline. I think the policy is what should be looked at. The president said he wanted a balanced approach...
The voters in this district instill in me a responsibility to put the extra time in and read. In the United States, our budgets don't go calendar year; they end in September. We had had two full months of the new fiscal year. In the new fiscal year, revenues increased 10 percent, a $30 billion increase...
If the president had had his way and passed the tax on (those who earn $250,000 a year or more), $31 billion would have been raised from that in the first year. So you raised in that two months $30 billion. The sad part here is in that same two months, spending increased 16 percent, $87 billion.
For too long we have passed legislation that kicked it down the road. I believe you had to have something that solved the problem. More importantly, many times during this, if you had passed this deadline, what would have ended? Nothing would have been shut down; everything would have moved forward. If we moved legislation some days later, it could have been retroactive.
I do not want to pass legislation ... in the last minute. Lots of times those are an emotional (vote), as we talked about in the earlier subject. Let's not do things on emotion. Let's do things on policy.
I believe there was a better way. And I believe this was a unique opportunity. We have had a trillion-dollar deficit year-over-year. We have a $16 trillion deficit and a $15 trillion economy. It is a different time than you had before...
I was frustrated with what the president did. I mean, (Vice President Joe) Biden did more in six hours than the president did in six months. I thought there was a better way to go, and that was based upon why I voted the way I did...
I'm not going to play politics with it. I know I'm in the Republican Party and there are Democrats, but when we walk on that carpet we are all Americans ... This is our window to do something right and do something that puts us on the right path.
TBC: We are curious what your role was during the time between the Senate passing its bill and the House finally voting. What was your job as the whip? Do you take the temperature of the caucus, or do you advocate one way or the other?
McCARTHY: You don't whip every bill.
There's certain bills you whip, and you try to move them to get them to pass. In this scenario of where we were, we went in and had a conference as a whole. This was not a bill that got whipped on either side for the sake of how somebody was going to vote...
What happened here is ... you had something pass and you had a deadline sitting there. And then you had the Senate leave. So it was all or nothing...
The more that we get back to regular order, you're going through a legislative process (the better), because you're able to see it, you're able to read it, you're able to debate it, you're able to amend it, and everybody has a voice in it.
I'm hopeful when we go forward on the debt limit that's what we're able to do. Don't wait for the deadline.
TBC: Have you ever had to whip (encourage) a vote that you opposed?
McCARTHY: I've never whipped a bill and worked a bill to a point that I didn't vote for or support it. (pause) I hope I never get to that point.
TBC: The debt ceiling was raised numerous times during the Reagan administration resulting in no controversy whatsoever. Do you think the debt ceiling should continue to be used as a political wedge?
McCARTHY: Is the debt ceiling the same as it was in other years? I don't believe it is.
I'm not opposed to America having some debt. What I really analyze is the amount of debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product)...
We don't think we should have a trillion-dollar deficit next year. We think we should do some tax measures where we expand this economy. We also think we should go line by line and look at where we can save money...
When you're more than a hundred percent of your GDP, you're really on a fine line.
TBC: As we try to attack this growing debt, is everything on the table?
McCARTHY: What if you're a senior and you're no longer working? ... I believe, just as our budget says, nothing's going to change for you and we'll protect you.
But I think everything else you can talk about.
TBC: On the day John Boehner was re-elected Speaker of the House, there appeared to be a small though somewhat disorganized revolt taking place. Some reporters present noted that you appeared to be having a heated discussion down on the floor with at least one member.
McCARTHY: They're writing about something they're not listening to and they think they see. Steve Fincher (a second-term Republican from Frog Jump, Tenn.) and I are like brothers. We mess around. We joke. This was not some heated discussion...
I understand some (members') frustration. I don't think we're at a place where I want to be right now. I'm not going to say everything's perfect for us.
This president has a different philosophical belief than we do. And there's a frustration with a lot of us where we feel like we're negotiating with ourselves. In the end, the president never came to an agreement. Joe Biden did and that's a lack of leadership.
TBC: Some have called the 112th Congress the most ineffective in modern history. What are your thoughts on that?
McCARTHY: If you used that phrase with the Senate, I'd agree whole-heartedly. In the House I would not.
The House passed a budget. The Senate did not...
We've tackled bigger problems and put America back onto a path of economic growth -- and saved Medicare and Social Security. I think that's productive.
TBC: Are you optimistic as we move forward -- even though some would say we're in a major fiscal mess -- that we can do something about it?
McCARTHY: I am. I still feel so honored and privileged to be given this opportunity... I think we're going to have more say right now. Winston Churchill said you can count on Americans to do what is right after they've exhausted every other option.
But I'm going to tell people the next three months are not going to be pretty. The media is not going to write nice things, and if they do, we're probably not doing what's right.