The Underestimated Kevin McCarthy

Speaker McCarthy Proves Doubters Wrong Again

On April 26, the House of Representatives passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, a bill that would raise the debt ceiling, repeal much of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, and apply work requirements to Medicaid and food stamps, among other things. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) was thrilled with the victory, especially since many doubted that the bill would ever leave the House. McCarthy has beaten expectations before, including when he won the office of speaker on the 15th ballot.

Despite presiding over a 222-213 Republican majority, McCarthy has faced criticism and skepticism from many in Washington. However, he has managed to pass legislation that rescinds funding for additional IRS agents, incentivizes oil and gas exploration and production, broadens parental rights in education, and hikes the debt limit. Additionally, the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is off to a strong and bipartisan start, and McCarthy has outplayed Biden and the Democrats on multiple occasions.

Concede to Lead

McCarthy’s method of “concede to lead” has proven successful. To become speaker, he gave the House Freedom Caucus enormous influence over committees, floor activity, and the legislative calendar. By drawing the Freedom Caucus into the inner circle and giving its members seats on the prestigious Rules Committee, McCarthy turned outsiders into insiders. His conservative outreach delivered results when outside groups normally opposed to GOP leadership, such as Heritage Action and the Center for Renewing America, came onboard the Limit, Save, Grow Act.

Similarly, when Republican members from corn states demanded that ethanol subsidies remain untouched in the debt ceiling bill, McCarthy agreed with them. And when conservatives wanted more stringent work requirements, he said yes again. McCarthy knows that the bill won’t become law, but he’s willing to accommodate practically everyone, so long as it helps him attain his desired end.

Success is Far from Assured

While the Limit, Save, Grow Act is an opening gambit, not part of the endgame, Speaker McCarthy can enjoy another win for now. However, no number of concessions may be enough to persuade 218 Republicans to back a deal this summer that lifts the debt ceiling for a few budget victories but not much else. Some in the GOP may want to see just how much a default would really hurt.

Regardless, McCarthy has proven his ability to lead and get things done. Don’t underestimate him again.

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