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GOP House leader McCarthy stumps for Michigan candidates, vows to return

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy campaigned for GOP congressional candidates John James, Tom Barrett, Paul Junge and Martell Bivings on Wednesday as they highlighted economic issues during a campaign stop in southern Oakland County.

"I came here with 70 days to go (until the election) and it won't be my last time," McCarthy said. "We're investing in these races, we believe in these people. We believe that they have the right direction for this nation."

Democrats hold a narrow majority of seats in the U.S. House, 220-211. Republicans are seeking to pick up seats in the midterm elections and retake control, which would make McCarthy the new speaker should his members retain him as their leader.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, left, shares a laugh with Republican congressional candidates Tom Barrett, John James and Paul Junge during a visit to the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy in Madison Heights on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.

McCarthy and four GOP congressional candidates toured the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy in Madison Heights.

John James is the Republican candidate in the 10th House District in Macomb and Oakland counties, running against Democrat Carl Marlinga for an open seat. Barrett is the Republican challenger in the 7th District against Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, and Junge will face Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, in the 8th District.

Bivings, D-Detroit, is the Republican nominee in the 13th District and faces Democratic state Rep. Shri Thanedar of Detroit in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Southeast Michigan Construction Academy is a non-union trade school that provides hands-on training for welders, electricians, carpenters and other construction trades workers.

"The idea is that you're actually working while you go to school," academy CEO Keith Ledbetter said. "We have students who come here, many of them don't have jobs... within the end of the first year just about all of them are employed."

Members of the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association and local construction business leaders also sat down with McCarthy and the congressional candidates to discuss inflation, student loan forgiveness, manufacturing and other key issues in the upcoming election.

Supply chain delays in getting equipment, rising gas prices and inflation-related hikes in material prices were among the issues local construction contractors said were affecting their businesses.

James, a Farmington Hills businessman, said creating a more permissible business environment through regulatory and tax reforms would lower prices.

"By making it more permissible for you to be able to help your employees and for you to be able to get more people on the job, these are the types of things that we can help — making it a more permissible business environment and frankly, not having it the government's way or the highway," said James, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2018 and 2020.

Republican congressional candidates Paul Junge and John James during a visit to the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy in Madison Heights, Michigan on August 31, 2022.

McCarthy blamed inflation on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and said making the country energy independent would lower the price of gas and tame inflation.

Barrett said the conditions and delays that result from supply chain issues "almost feel intentional."

"We didn't do this to ourselves, they did this to us, it almost feels intentional at a certain point," Barrett said. "Like they want to force us into these lower standard of living types of situations."

Union and business leaders also called for more vocational training in high schools, like the kind of education that the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy provides. Many were also upset by Biden's plan to forgive $10,000 in student loans and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, as long as the debtors earn less than $125,000 annually. 

"We have electricians and carpenters that are going to be paying for the white collar college educated to go to college," Ledbetter said. "Is that fair? Is that right?"

Keith Ledbetter, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, shows a model house construction project Wednesday to Republican congressional candidates John James and Martell Bivings, U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP congressional candidates Tom Barrett and Paul Junge at the Southeast Michigan Construction Academy in Madison Heights.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 90% of the funds going towards student loan forgiveness will go to individuals earning less than $75,000 a year. No one in the top 5% of incomes in the country will qualify for the loan forgiveness program. 

McCarthy said Biden's loan forgiveness plan is different from other loan forgiveness plans, such as the Paycheck Protection Program that was created early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The paycheck protection, I was there to help craft it, it was designed to be forgiven if the money went to the employees and rent," McCarthy said. 

Borrowers were eligible for loan forgiveness through the PPP if the funds were used for eligible payroll costs, payments on business mortgage interest payments, rent, or utilities, according to the U.S. Treasury.

About 10.2 million in PPP loans to employers totaling nearly $400 billion were forgiven, according to government data.

James' family supply chain business, Renaissance Global Logistics, received a $2.7 million loan through the PPP that was forgiven, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data.

"The difference is when people went out to have a school loan, there was no plan that would be forgiven," McCarthy said.

hmackay@detroitnews.com

@hmackayDN