BALTIMORE — As House Republicans kicked off a 48-hour retreat here Thursday afternoon to plot their path back to the majority, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters the GOP’s top priority if it retakes the chamber in 2020 would be to address the national debt.
“First thing we would do is make sure our debt is taken care of,” the California Republican said. “This is continuing to grow.”
“We’ve got a majority that just has taken over, the Democrats — the first thing they did was not pass a budget. We’d pass a budget just as we did before that put us on a path to balance,” McCarthy added. “We’d make sure that our entitlements are protected for our future generation because it comes into question today. Every great society has collapsed when they overextended themselves.”
McCarthy’s remarks came the same day the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. budget deficit surpassed $1 trillion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year.
Republicans in recent years have come under attack for largely abandoning their fiscal hawk stances in favor of policies, like the 2017 tax law, that have added to the debt.
While McCarthy criticized House Democrats for not passing a budget resolution this year, his own party failed to do so in 2018, when it had the majority. Like Democrats this year, Republicans in 2018 reported a budget resolution out of committee, but it was never brought to the floor.
McCarthy expressed interested Thursday in shoring up entitlement programs — which will require mandatory spending cuts — but President Donald Trump has shown little appetite for it.
Trump’s inclination to push off addressing the deficit was on display earlier this summer when he urged Republicans to support a bipartisan budget deal to raise the statutory discretionary spending caps by $324 billion over the next two fiscal years. “There is always plenty of time to cut,” he tweeted at the time. Ultimately, 132 House Republicans voted against the measure.
Budget Deal is phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Two year deal gets us past the Election. Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2019
That position is among the reasons that Trump is facing a presidential primary challenge from former Rep. Mark Sanford, who was a strict deficit hawk during his years in the House.
The South Carolina Republican said the deficit topping the $1 trillion mark was “something that has never before happened in peacetime” and blamed Trump for his inaction.
“The president’s propensity to dismiss our deteriorating financial position is dangerous, and these threats are underscored by the U.S. Treasury numbers,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Other issues that would be high on Republicans’ agenda if they took back the House include the environment and technology and privacy rights, McCarthy said.
The minority leader said he’d like to incentivize the extraction of carbon dioxide from the air. He also pointed to a bill that would create grants for research into carbon capture technology, sponsored by Texas freshman Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
McCarthy suggested that a House Republican majority could solve the problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. He spread the blame for the problem globally, saying that a large majority of the world’s plastic flows into oceans from rivers not in the U.S.
“We look to an environment of the future,” he said.
McCarthy said he expected the topic of technology and privacy rights to come up during retreat sessions on “the future of technology and innovation.”
He also said he hopes the House will tackle the problem of surprise medical billing this Congress, with Democrats in charge, but if not, Republicans would make sure to address that if they took control.
In July, a House committee advanced a bill that would block providers from charging out-of-network rates to patients in certain emergency situations or when a patient unexpectedly receives out-of-network care at an in-network facility. It has not come to the House floor for a vote as yet.