There seems to be an epidemic of political amnesia afflicting some in the legacy Conservative Inc. circles, allowing them to propagate a message that McCarthy, unlike McConnell, is somehow a new kid on the block intrepidly representing the interests of conservatives in 2022. In reality, he is a rusted-out fossil from the Boehner-Cantor-Ryan gang that perfidiously betrayed us on every issue, leverage point, and strategy that could have precluded the terrible morass we find ourselves in today. While McCarthy was never speaker, he was the majority leader from 2014 (and whip since 2010), including those critical years – 2017-2018 – when Republicans held all three branches.
The advantage to my long-standing column is that I have now fought every single budget battle since 2010 and have a column from that time period to show the receipts. Hence, I’m grounded in reality and not afflicted by the same political amnesia that others are.
Here’s that reality. Every single major budget bill that passed under McCarthy’s leadership as floor leader of the last GOP House, which was when the GOP controlled the trifecta and commanded full stewardship over the policies, was passed with more Democrat support than Republican support. It was simply unprecedented in modern history. Imagine the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi Congress passing budget bills nearly unanimously pleasing to Republicans but detested by their core base. Never going to happen, because they don’t have Kevin McCarthy equivalents.
The entire sole leverage point and entire purpose of the GOP controlling the House now is to use the must-pass budget bills to fight the most destructive and unpopular policies of the administration. McCarthy not only failed on every single budget bill as floor leader during the era of trifecta control, but he literally passed bills that were so palatable to the Left that nearly every radical Democrat support them, while any semi-conservative Republican opposed them. How can anyone suggest with a straight face that he McCarthy will somehow fight for us now? What about him shows that he is a changed man, and how are conservatives who raise these valid concerns somehow helping Democrats?
If you want to discuss helping Democrats, here is a synopsis of McCarthy’s budget record as majority leader during the Trump golden years.
- The first big test came in the spring of 2017. With Trump as president and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, they had enormous political capital with which to make their mark on the budget and roll back the Obama agenda. This was the first “MAGA-era budget.” But the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (H.R. 244), a 1,665-page omnibus bill, passed on May 3, 2017, with barely any time to read it and was supported by the Democrats 178-15, but the Republicans were split down the middle. Every single Senate Democrat voted for it. Coming on the heels of Obama’s spend-a-thon, the budget bill increased spending, busted the budget caps, declined to gut Obamacare as promised, and failed to fund the border wall. Democrats celebrated the jettisoning of more than 160 policy riders put forth by conservatives. How does this happen with a GOP majority and trifecta control? With people like McConnell and McCarthy in charge promoting it. For more background, here is my column at the time.
- The next big test was the first debt ceiling suspension under Trump and the GOP trifecta. On Sept. 8, 2017, McCarthy, as majority leader, voted for and whipped for a debt ceiling suspension for nothing in return that got support from every single Democrat but garnered the opposition of 90 of the most conservative Republicans. Every single Democrat supported it in the Senate over the opposition of 18 Republicans. For more background, here is my column at the time.
- In March 2018, McCarthy and Ryan shepherded through a massive omnibus bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 that funded every Democrat priority with increased funding, including the items Trump promised to eliminate completely. Although this bill did get a majority of the GOP conference on board, it passed with roughly the same ratio of Democrats supporting it, and 23 of the 32 no votes in the Senate were from Republicans opposing the Ryan-McCarthy-McConnell budget bill. For more background, here is my column at the time. After initially threatening to veto the bill, Trump reluctantly signed it but then promised he would “never sign another bill like this again.” But again, on September 26, 2018, Republicans passed a “Cromnibus bill” codifying the same spending priorities for the beginning of FY 2019. How bad was it? Only five Democrats opposed it, even though 56 Republicans voted no. Bernie Sanders was the only Democrat to oppose it in the Senate. For more background, here is my column at the time. Here are the details on the Cromnibus.
- Because Republicans failed to use their leverage to build the wall and cut undesirable programs, including Obamacare, when they had control of Congress, they didn’t fight until the end of 2018, when they lost control of the House. There was a government shutdown throughout January 2019, primarily over the border crisis, and Congress passed the final bill on Feb. 14, 2019, which funded the government with Democrat priorities minus most of the border wall. The House was already under Democrat control, but Republicans still had leverage through control of the Senate and the presidency. Yet McCarthy voted for the bill that was supported by nearly every Democrat but opposed by the majority of Republicans. For more background, here is my column at the time.
- Even after Republicans lost control of the House, they still maintained the Senate and the presidency in 2019 and 2020. McCarthy, as House minority leader, could have served as a voice urging Trump and McConnell to oppose the Democrat spending bills. Yet not only did he decline to whip against these bills, he actually voted for the December 2019 Democrat spending bill that was opposed by a majority of his conference but was supported by Democrats 218-7. This was literally the same week Democrats voted to impeach Trump. What a Christmas present for Democrats! Every single Democrat in the Senate supported the bill, while all the conservatives voted no. McCarthy’s voice could have been critical at that time. For more background, see my columns here and here.
Thus, who is the one who works with Democrats to pass the most critical bills? McCarthy was part of the leadership team that turned Trump’s critical years into the most Democrat-friendly bipartisan lovefest of any majority-control era ever.
McCarthy’s cheerleaders are trying to make the case that somehow he is a changed man and that somehow because of his oleaginous charm offensive with gullible conservative influencers, he is vastly better than McConnell. However, on the issues that matter, in the way they matter, and at the time they matter, he has not demonstrated even a little bit of a foxhole conversion. He refused to whip against the gay marriage bill in the House and to this day declines to publicly call on McConnell to oppose the omnibus bill in the Senate and give him control over the remainder of the FY 2023 budget process – literally a replica of what he did last time he was in the majority. Politico aptly describes his position as “hope yes, vote no.”
Furthermore, he has failed to even entertain any of the rules changes proposed by the Freedom Caucus, including the “majority of the majority” rule, which would prevent him from passing budgets with Democrat support. Most of these rules are not extreme right-wing demands, but basic ideas to decentralize power that would help augment the voices of Democrats and moderates as well.
Yet Donald Trump Jr. and the establishment are out pimping for McCarthy by accusing the Freedom Caucus members of somehow helping the Democrats by demanding a change in leadership from the man who turned Trump’s presidency into a Democrat lovefest:
The reality is that thanks to Don Jr.’s dad, McConnell, Ryan, and yes, Kevin McCarthy, Schumer bragged about winning every budget battle during Trump’s presidency. The only good outcomes under his presidency were the result of executive actions. The legislative front was a disaster, and McCarthy was in the thick of it.At some point, Republicans need to earn our votes, not demand them through scaremongering about the Democrats when they are the ones who agree with the Democrats on every issue that matters at the time it actually matters. “But the Democrats” has gotten old, given that echoing every important talking point of the left when the ball is actually in play is the GOP’s favorite pastime.