And given McCarthy is the third highest ranking member of the GOP congressional leadership, he may be able to do a lot.
"I think it's a bad investment," the House majority whip on Monday afternoon during a wide-ranging interview in Sacramento with a group of Capitol reporters.
McCarthy was in town as part of an ongoing speakers series presented by the Public Policy Institute of California. While here, he said he intended to chat with legislative leaders and the GOP caucuses inside the state Capitol -- a familiar setting for the former Assembly Republican leader, who left Sacramento for Capitol Hill in 2006.
Though he's focused mostly on national issues, high speed rail is an issue in which the Bakersfield Republican seems to have taken a keen interest. And he doesn't like what he sees.
"I don't think it's dead yet," said McCarthy. "But it should be."
This is a period of rough waters for the bullet train project, as its supporters -- most notably, Governor Jerry Brown -- continue to defend the project from skeptical analyses and outright grumbling in the pages of the state's newspapers. McCarthy's efforts in DC, while not the final word, are yet another hurdle.
The House whip scoffed at ridership projections for the system, especially those for Central Valley residents, and said the flaws in those numbers mean the project will end up relying on government subsidies if it's built. And the project's single biggest investor, even according to the most recent business plan from the state's rail authority, would be the federal government -- at more than 60% of the San Francisco Bay-to-LA Basin route.
"It really looks like California is asking the federal government to build them a high speed rail," said McCarthy. He described the project as in need of "adult supervision to come in here and say, 'This is not the right time or place.'"
McCarthy has asked for a GAO audit of the project and introduced legislation back in October to freeze federal funding.
As for other topics McCarthy chatted about...
On Redistricting: "I expected something better" from the citizens commission, said McCarthy, who joined other California Republicans in singling out the hotly debated state Senate maps. He pointed in particular to the splits of cities and counties in the maps, a criteria on which others have found the commission did a pretty good job.
McCarthy dismissed one buzzed about item from 2011 -- that he helped stifle any kind of serious (read: financial) help for overturning the state's new congressional maps. "The majority of the [GOP delegation] was not there" on a challenge, he said. And McCarthy did express criticism that campaign dollars that the state GOP will need in 2012 was used to mount the political challenge to the Senate map via a still-pending referendum. And he said while 2012 may mean a loss of GOP congressional seats in the state, an "off year" race in the future may swing that pendulum back the other way.
GOP's California Woes: McCarthy suggested that his party needs to use an approach similar to the one he and national Republicans used in recruiting new candidates and perhaps stopping the party's slide into permanent minority status -- that is, looking for candidates who may be active in their communities but not in elective politics. And he said that means not to "come in and pick [the candidate's] philosophical bent."
McCarthy also mused at length about possible challengers to Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- Rep. David Dreier, in particular -- and he boasted about an iPhone app he helped create for the public to monitor the goings-on in the U.S. House of Representatives.