Kevin McCarthy

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s list of policy goals in the coming year includes stopping high-speed rail and pulling Obamacare “out by the roots.” (Toby Jorrin/McClatchy Washington Bureau)

Californians to Watch in 2015
By Christopher Cadelago
12/26/2014 9:38 PM

Eight years ago, then-Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy was leading fellow Republicans in Sacramento, clawing for relevance in a Capitol dominated by Democrats.

Now McCarthy is the second most powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“From my perspective, he’s a guy who learns quickly,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from Tulare. “Let’s face it, it’s not very often you see someone rise so quickly to be the majority leader without having a lot of skill.”

That political aptitude is helping shape his party’s strategy as it prepares to convene the 114th Congress firmly in control of Capitol Hill. House Republicans bolstered by their largest majority in decades will take up many of the bills they previously passed that languished in the Democratic-run Senate.

McCarthy, 49, of Bakersfield said the House GOP’s agenda includes energy, education and foreign policy, health care, tax and regulatory reform, immigration and the California drought. Working with the Senate and passing legislation will signal Republicans are committed to legislating, he said, which is crucial to winning back the White House in 2016.

“I think it will change the whole debate,” McCarthy said, noting the country has notched major achievements under divided governments of the past.

Former President Ronald Reagan and Democrats reformed the tax code; Bill Clinton and Republicans overhauled welfare and balanced the federal budget, he said. “We have a really unique opportunity to do some very big things for the country.”

McCarthy, who still sleeps in his Washington office and travels back to his district every weekend, said another goal will be to demonstrate competence by tightening oversight and passing smaller-scale legislation with Democratic support.

He has circulated a memo to colleagues detailing several blunders and scandals such as those involving Veterans Affairs, the Secret Service and Internal Revenue Service that he said undermine the public’s trust in government, but can be fixed by Congress.

“The way you get competency is you hold people accountable,” he said.

His plans to restore public confidence won’t be easy. A new Associated Press/GfK poll found just 36 percent of Americans believe lawmakers will restore trust in government. The same survey showed 13 percent think the Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama will work together to solve problems.

McCarthy has taken heat from some conservatives, including over the recent $1.1 trillion spending bill. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, represents a mostly rural agricultural district with some similar poverty, labor and resource issues. While the pair have been on opposite sides of issues, including stalled emergency drought legislation, Garamendi said McCarthy’s chief challenge remains negotiating the divide between members of his GOP conference.

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