Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2011 National Legislative Summit: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy Predicts Financial Challenges Will Lead to Consensus

As the 2011 Community College National Legislative Summit drew to a close Wednesday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), predicted that the divisiveness that has characterized Washington politics in recent years will be supplanted by the common need to address pressing financial challenges.

“The mindset on both sides of the aisle is knowing that the crunch is about to hit us,” McCarthy, the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, told summit attendees during Wednesday's general session. Arguing that the federal budget deficit is no longer sustainable, he urged attendees to watch closely the deliberations over funding the current FY11 budget, as Congress works to avert a potential early March shutdown of the federal government. “The next two weeks is going to tell us whether we can work together and put politics aside to put the country first,” McCarthy said. “What happens... will determine how the debate on other things will go.”

Asserting that “structure dictates behavior,” McCarthy pointed to both changes within Congress and external factors as signals that the rancor of recent years may change. As majority whip, McCarthy said he regularly has lunch with his counterpart on the other side of the aisle to seek common ground. Other structural changes to meeting and voting schedules will also help improve debate, he said, pointing to the hundreds of amendments already attached to the continuing resolution for FY11. “We’re going through a detox right now,” said McCarthy, whose political career began in 2000 when he was elected a trustee of the Kern Community College District. “In the long term, it will be so much better for us when we can have a debate where the best ideas can rise up and win.”

Beyond Capitol Hill, the need to put Americans back to work will play an even bigger factor in driving progress, McCarthy predicted. “Commonality is going to happen around jobs,” he said. “If we don’t get America working again, we’re never going to get anywhere... and if we don’t find a solution, no one’s going to be reelected. So I believe we have the opportunity to do something.”

Acknowledging that the current deliberations by both Congress and the Obama Administration have centered on the 14-16 percent of the budget allocated to discretionary non-defense spending, McCarthy predicted that will change as the focus shifts to the 2012 presidential elections. “Everything needs to be on the table,” he said. “If we go and debate things this year, they may not pass, but they will go into play in the presidential campaign. That will be healthy.”

As the NLS drew to a close following three days of Hill visits by trustees and community college presidents, ACCT officials reminded attendees of the importance of making advocacy a year-round effort. “Our work does not end today,” said ACCT Chair Peter E. Sercer, Sr., a trustee at Midlands Technical College in South Carolina.

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