In an exclusive interview with Spectrum News, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. slammed President Joe Biden’s newly proposed budget and complained it should have been presented “more than a month ago” – but he declined to say when Republicans would present a counter-proposal.
“We want to look at the president's budget very thoughtfully,” McCarthy said Thursday. “And we will do the numbers, but if you look at the president’s budget, all it does is – more debt?”
Biden’s proposal, which he unveiled in Philadelphia on Thursday, sets the stage for a high-stakes confrontation with McCarthy and congressional Republicans over raising the government’s borrowing limit. Republicans are demanding spending cuts in exchange for their agreement to lift the debt ceiling. Biden insists the limit should be raised with no strings attached. If there is no deal by the summer, the government will be unable to pay its bills, triggering a default that could shock the global economy.
McCarthy told Spectrum News the U.S. is at “a tipping point” in terms of the nation’s debt. He blamed Democrats for spending – something he said they must “correct.”
“When I sat with the president I said, ‘We're going to be responsible, we're not going to raise taxes, and we're gonna spend less money than we’ve spent before,” McCarthy said, recalling his meeting with Biden on Feb. 1 to begin discussions on raising the debt limit.
“There's places in government that we can find ways … we can become more efficient, and there are some things that we can find great savings from and that's what we'll do.”
Presidents are supposed to propose a budget by the first Monday in February, for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Although McCarthy complained Biden was late in introducing his proposal, he offered no specifics, and no deadline, for his party’s counter proposal
“We would have already liked to have this out next month, but the problem is the president delayed us more than a month by not bringing his budget out,” he reiterated. “And the difficulty is – remember the president's been in office for two years, he knew this day so he could be working on this budget. We just took over in January.”
One challenge facing Republicans is that some of the party’s members in Congress have ruled out cuts to Social Security, Medicare and defense spending, leaving domestic programs to shoulder steep cuts in order to meet spending reduction targets. But cutting those programs could cause major political blowback from voters.
In Philadelphia on Thursday, Biden challenged McCarthy to present his proposal.
“The fact is that the speaker of the House has been – he's a very conservative guy and he has an even more conservative group with him – but he and I met early on, and he said, ‘What we're gonna do about the budget?’”
Biden recalled telling McCarthy: “Well, let’s make a deal … I’m going to introduce my budget on the 9th of March, you introduce yours, and we’ll sit down and we’ll go line by line, and we’ll go through it, see [what] we can agree on, what we disagree on, and then fight it out in the Congress.”
“I want to make it clear: I'm ready to meet with a speaker any time – tomorrow if he has his budget. Lay it down. Tell me what you want to do, I’ll show you what I want to do, see what we can agree on. If we don’t agree, let’s just see … we’ll vote on it.”
One Biden proposal that is a non-starter for McCarthy: raising taxes on the wealthy to keep Medicare solvent. McCarthy insisted all Americans would be impacted by higher rates, not just high earners
He also expressed skepticism about some of Biden’s suggested spending increases, but declined to comment on whether he supports specific proposals by Biden – including an increase in Pentagon funding or a 5.2 percent pay raise for federal employees.
“Well, I would look at what we're going to spend, but I also look at places that we can waste money,” McCarthy said, before saying he would eliminate some of the “wokeism” at the agency.
“The way I look at it: the $31 trillion debt, I would look at every place that we spend money,” he said. “Where can we be more efficient? Where can we make the dollar go further? Remember this money is taken from taxpayers, hard-working taxpayers. So everything that you want to add to, it has to come from something else. So you have to have rationale and reason. Did they earn it? Is this the most appropriate thing? Could we do something better? Could we save money so we wouldn't have to take money? That's the way I look at it.”
Last month, McCarthy gave Fox News host Tucker Carlson more than 41,000 hours of archived Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol.
On Thursday, McCarthy downplayed his decision to release the footage, which Carlson used to falsely categorize the insurrection as “mostly peaceful chaos.”
“Tucker Carlson has been calling this a ‘peaceful protest’ on Jan. 6,” Spectrum News reporter Cassie Semyon asked McCarthy. “You were here on that day. Would you agree with that assessment?”
“Look, there’s many times it wasn’t peaceful,” McCarthy said. “I don’t support what happened on Jan. 6, and the fighting with officers and others ... There's a better way to have a peaceful protest.”
In the days immediately following the Jan. 6 riot, in which thousands of then President Donald Trump’s supporters swarmed the Capitol to block the certification of Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, McCarthy called for rioters to be jailed. In an interview with Fox News from a secure location during the riot, McCarthy called the attack “un-American” and condemned the protestors.
“Anyone involved in this, if you’re hearing me, hear me loud and clear: This is not the American way. This is not protected by the First Amendment. This must stop now,” he said.
Five people died in the aftermath of that day, including one woman who was shot by Capitol Police as she tried to break into a secured area, and one Capitol police officer. Four more Capitol police officers died of suicide less than a year after the attack on the Capitol.
Members of McCarthy’s own party reacted negatively to Carlson’s spin, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said it was a "mistake" for Fox News to air the segment, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who told NBC that Carlson’s claims are “bull****.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who said "there was violence" on that day, called for the footage to be made available to all networks.
“I was there on Jan. 6. I saw what happened, I saw the aftermath. Look, there was violence on Jan. 6,” Rounds told CNN. “I think the footage that’s available should be made available to all networks, and everybody should be able to see for themselves just what kind of chaos we had on that day.”
When asked, McCarthy said that “we’ll get [the video] out to everybody,” but did not provide an estimated date.
“The hard part is, it’s a lot more hours than the Democrats ever told us — they said it was only 14,000 hours, but it’s 41,000 hours, and we want to be thoughtful about this…but we’ll get it out, because I believe in transparency.”