House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy briefly laid out a Republican agenda that touched on tax reform, energy policy and changes to regulatory agencies during a visit Tuesday to Newport Beach.
"We're in the middle of a philosophical battle that's been a bigger divide than we've ever seen," the Bakersfield Republican said.
He said the Republican-controlled House has recently struggled to make progress, but he blamed the Senate, where Democrats have a majority, for not taking up House bills.
The Pacific Research Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank that promotes free-market policies, hosted McCarthy, who spoke as part of a $50-per-head luncheon at the Pacific Club.
The next target for Republicans hoping to reduce spending and reign in the size of the government, McCarthy said, will be the growing expenditures on entitlements, such as Medicare and Social Security.
"If we don't reform that, we can't sustain ourselves," he said.
Friday was the start of Congress' five-week summer recess. Representatives will return to the Capitol without an approved budget and facing another fight over the debt ceiling.
There is a debate among Republicans at the moment, McCarthy said, about whether to try to force through a bill defunding the Affordable Care Act as part of a budget or debt deal.
The congressman took a few questions from the audience, including one on immigration. McCarthy said the U.S. needs to grow its population to compete with global economies but said the first step is securing its borders.
He promoted a guest-worker program and legal status for many immigrants but stopped short of offering a path to citizenship.
"What you then have to address is the 11 million that are here considered illegal," he said. "I personally believe it's different for someone who's been here 30 years than if they've been here three months."
McCarthy said people who overstayed their visa in the U.S. should pay some penalty, those who came here illegally should be able to work toward a legal status, and those who came without a visa and committed a serious felony should be deported.
"I personally believe if you came here as a child, that's different," McCarthy said. "This is your country. You have no other place to go to."
House Republicans are crafting a bill to deal with that issue, he said.
McCarthy also joked about Kevin Spacey calling him to do research for the TV show "House of Cards," on which Spacey plays a Democratic majority whip.
"I'll say this about Spacey, I actually liked him — philosophically we're different — but do you know why? I believe if Spacey made 100 bucks a week acting he'd still act," McCarthy said.