Right-Wing Groups Just Scored Their First Victory Over Kevin McCarthy

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 24 2014 8:55 AM

Right-Wing Groups Just Scored Their First Victory Over Kevin McCarthy

When conservative outside groups fail to defeat a bill in Congress, the cheers come from all over D.C. Business groups mock the incompetence of the groups; Republican leaders declare that they've been taught a hard lesson by the shutdown; Democrats just like to see 'em lose. The House's passage last week of the highway trust fund bill overcame opposition from the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which made the passage look like a big win. (Easy to forget that it was the latest way to mark time because Republicans and endangered Democrats don't want to raise the gas tax.)

There's been less coverage of this week's narrow conservative win. The Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act, or SECEAJA (not a lot of thought put into that acronym), was the brainchild of Rep. Eric Swalwell, a freshman Democrat from Nothern California. If Swalwell succeeded, his bill would have replaced a 30-year-old rare earth elements bill with a new regime that would reward companies/researchers who were stretching the uses of the elements. (This is superficially pretty boring, so the lack of coverage makes sense. I certainly didn't notice it!) A previous version of the bill, for example, would have given the Department of Energy a new ability to make loan guarantees "for the commercial application of new or significantly improved technologies."*

Advertisement

Loan guarantees? Shades of Solyndra; shades of the Export-Import Bank. It was easy for conservative groups to make a case against this bill, even after the guarantees were removed. Picking themselves right up after the highway fund defeat, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth told conservatives to kill the bill. Rather than incentivizing new programs, argued Heritage, "the government should open access to the 13 states where rare earths lie and establish an efficient regulatory pathway that provides companies the certainty needed to extract REE." The club, warning about the loan guarantees: "We can only assume that supporters of this bill will seek to implement these guarantees after this program has firmly found its place in the federal government after a few years."

It worked. Swalwell's bill was introduced under suspension of the rules, protecting from amendments (like, say, one that would legalize mining in public land, which was the gist of Heritage's argument). The bill needed 269 votes; it topped out at 260. A majority of the GOP conference, 142 members, voted "no." 

Swalwell immediately fingered the conservative groups, accusing Republicans of being cowed, panicking that "the Department of Defense will continue to be at the mercy of China." Certainly, the groups aren't turning down credit. This little vote was actually the first defeat of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's new career as majority leader. He supported the bill. His new whip, Rep. Steve Scalise—a conservative who came to the job from the Republican Study Committee—voted against it. He was joined by Rep. Peter Roskam, the "establishment" candidate he beat for the whip job.

*Correction, July 28, 2014: This post originally misstated that the bill would enable the Department of Energy to make loan guarantees. The guarantees were stripped from a compromise version of the bill.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Culturebox
Sept. 18 2014 4:00 PM When The Cosby Show Got “Very Special” Why were The Cosby Show’s Very Special Episodes so much better than every other ’80s sitcom’s?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 4:26 PM Global Oceans Break All-Time Heat Record; World on Pace for Warmest Year Ever
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.