Last Friday, I became the majority leader of the House of Representatives. As I assume my role, Congress has a 12-percent approval rating. While Washington remains gridlocked, many unfortunately see Congress as an institution full of constant conflict and opposition, not ideas.
I do not hide from these criticisms. Congress works for the American people, and if we are to lead, we must have the wisdom to listen.
What we hear is anxiety. Americans have not lost faith in themselves, but they are losing faith in their government.
It’s not hard to see why. In the past six years, Americans have been promised a lot from their government, including an inexpensive and functioning healthcare system and an economic recovery that would create well-paying jobs.
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But Washington attempted state-run solutions for every problem, and none of its promises have been fulfilled. So in 2010, the people responded to President Obama’s first two years by electing a Republican majority in the House.
The people chose Republicans for the same reason I did as a kid. I grew up in a family of Democrats, but I became a Republican because of the party’s commitment to a United States of prosperity and opportunity that isn’t given by government but rather is earned by a free and exceptional people.
During the troubles of the mid-1970s, Ronald Reagan insisted that Republicans would raise “a banner of bold colors, no pale pastels. A banner instantly recognizable as standing for certain values which will not be compromised.” We must raise that banner higher today.
It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong in this country — joblessness, debt and our standing in the world. But although we’ve been down before, we’ve never stayed that way.
Good policies can help the country along, but the true strength of this country rests in the people, not Washington.
To this end, my House colleagues and I will work to ensure that Washington empowers Americans by restoring the promise of the American Dream.
We must reform our tax code to make it simpler and fairer so that businesses and families aren’t forced to compete on an unequal playing field.
Likewise, we can have North American energy independence and affordable energy for hardworking Americans once we set aside our illogical patchwork of regulations.
Top-down meddling inhibits our education system, so we must promote choice and local decision-making to ensure that all students have access to quality education.
And, most important, House Republicans will focus on ending legislative relics that breed unaccountability and bureaucratic ineptitude. The House did exactly that last week by passing a strongly bipartisan Veterans Affairs reform bill, as did the Senate. This agreement provides choice for our veterans, a necessary and important step to modernizing the VA.
Congress must let go of the stale policies of the past and move government to the 21st century. I have always believed that you must win the argument before you can win the vote. In Congress, committees act as idea factories for policies from both sides, and as majority leader I will commit to the committee process and regular order.
Yet even positive debate is challenging in today’s political environment. To help restore civility, I spend a lot of time building relationships with anyone willing to work with me. I sweat alongside members of both parties on morning bike rides I lead to the C&O Canal in Georgetown. I talk with Democrats and Republicans on our long flights back to California. The door to my office is always open.
Friendships alone won’t break Washington’s logjam, but a sense of mutual respect is necessary for constructive dialogue.
Come September, when the House returns to session, we will finish the legislative year focusing on the concerns we’ve heard from our districts and across the nation. We will vote on bipartisan legislation that will encourage job creation and restore American opportunity. The House will assert itself as a co-equal branch of government, as our Founders intended. And we will vote to place sensible checks on the administration’s regulatory overreach so that red tape doesn’t choke our fragile economic recovery.
The House doesn’t control Washington, but each and every day we will do our part and urge the Senate and president to do theirs. In my new position, I will work with the House to inspire an America of prosperity and opportunity that places trust not in government, but in the people.
Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, is the House majority leader.
Special to The Washington