Politico

By JAKE SHERMAN | 10/26/14 8:22 PM EDT

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy landed here from Los Angeles with a bang: he bluntly warned that Republicans will blow the presidency in 2016 if they don’t make some radical changes – and quick.

McCarthy, speaking without a working microphone, told a group of Long Island donors that their gains in the House will amount to little if they can’t govern over the next two years.

“I do know this,” McCarthy said, standing in front of a group of Long Island donors. “If we don’t capture the House stronger, and the Senate, and prove we could govern, there won’t be a Republican president in 2016.”

The crowd groaned at his prediction. McCarthy feels the same.

In a series of interviews with POLITICO in his office in D.C., in a Capitol Police SUV in New York and aboard a rented private jet flying above the Empire State, McCarthy, who became the No. 2 Republican in the House this summer, laid out in the richest detail yet his goals for a Republican controlled Capitol Hill.

Legislative cliffs are over. One muscular, unified agenda will bridge both chambers. If he has his way, House and Senate Republicans will kick off the year at a joint retreat to get on the same page. He and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) have already been holding private dinners with lawmakers from both chambers to build relationships.

“You have a lot of new people over there and don’t instinctively like the Senate to start with, which I get,” Thune said in an interview. “In the House, it’s a dynamic where you really have to work it. And we’re trying to do a better job of that.”

McCarthy’s vision is a departure from the last four years under former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, when brinksmanship and dysfunction ruled. Now, alienated voters must be won back to have a shot at the White House in 2016.

“My belief is you have one chance to make a first impression,” McCarthy said, as his black SUV crawled eastward on Long Island. “From the very first day after the election, we should be laying out to the American public what the expectations are. Why make two different agendas?”

McCarthy is intently focused on the first few months in session, which he sees as critical for his agenda. He would like to use the lame-duck session to pass a long-term government-funding bill, so Washington can begin focusing on big-picture legislating, instead of just trying to keep government’s doors open. He also is aiming to renew a host of lapsed business-focused tax provisions and renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act — two items with bipartisan support.

“If we are fortunate to have both majorities, take away any cliff you can have hanging out there,” McCarthy said, sitting in his SUV fiddling with an iPhone and Blackberry. “If you have a cliff, it takes attention away. Why put cliffs up that hold us back from doing bigger policy?”

The party’s ability to coalesce around large-scale legislation is certainly in doubt, but McCarthy seems willing to pass small-bore bills on issues ranging from energy to health care to taxes. He sees it as a way to draw constant contrasts with President Barack Obama and to split Democrats. Maybe Obama will sign some bills into law, he says. If he doesn’t, it will set up a clean discussion for the 2016 presidential election.

Energy policy will be a priority, in addition to repealing the medical device tax and the independent payment board for Medicare – bills that Democrats have mostly ignored over the past few years. Highway spending will likely come up, McCarthy said, and it could be funded by new drilling on public lands.

Of course, critics inside and outside the Republican establishment say the party’s revival is dependent on not only a functioning Congress, but passing policies like immigration reform — an uncertain prospect in a Republican-controlled Congress.

McCarthy left open the possibility of passing an overhaul of immigration laws, but said if Obama “tried to do it by executive order, that’s the worst way,” and it would “stop everything.”

Inside Washington, McCarthy sees himself re-imagining government. He fashions himself a D.C. disruptor, of sorts.

One of his chief goals is to rework the federal bureaucracy. In his travel throughout more than 100 congressional districts, McCarthy says he has sensed a great distrust in the federal government. He says voters are frustrated with Obama’s handling of Ebola, the health care law, the IRS and Secret Service scandals. And that’s why he is setting up a congressional mechanism to whittle away at inefficiencies that plague the government. He likens his plans to the commission that shut down underused military bases. He wonders why many city governments operate online, and the federal government still conducts business on paper.

Efficiency in governing is important for McCarthy, which is why he says he wants a governor as the 2016 GOP nominee, and, when asked which state executive he likes, he mentioned Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

His rearranging of Washington won’t spare the Capitol. He is looking to audit the Congressional committee structure, rework the way Congress writes the nation’s budget and plans to, once and for all, sync the Senate and House’s schedules to improve efficiency. He also wants the House out of session on days besides Friday, so lawmakers can be around their hometowns during the week. And House committees, he said, should be doing far more field work.

Of course, McCarthy’s vision is predicated on a Republican majority in both chambers. But he’s bullish on that. He privately tells donors he believes there’s a “75 percent” chance the GOP will take the Senate.

A departure from the past

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