McClintock leaves Sacramento for seat on Capitol Hill

California's newest member of Congress is no stranger to state politics. Tom McClintock spent more than two decades in the state legislature representing the San Fernando Valley. Last month, he was sworn in to represent the 4th Congressional district, north of Sacramento. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde stopped by the freshman Congressman's new office on Capitol Hill for a visit.

[Buzz sound]
Kitty Felde: What's that?
McClintock: Oh, that's the bell for a vote. Or – or, House floor action. It depends. That's the long one. That means they've gone into recess.
Felde: How'd you learn that?
McClintock: Well, just kind of they ring the bell and I ask the same question. What does that mean? Actually, I've got a little cheat sheet on my desk, but it becomes Pavlovian after a while.

Felde: After a while? Tom McClintock's been on Capitol Hill only about a month. And he's a freshman among freshmen. It took a recount to determine that he'd defeated his Democratic opponent Charlie Brown by a little over 1,500 votes.

He wasn't declared the winner until December. But it didn't take him long to fall in with his fellow Republicans. Like all the GOP members in the House, McClintock voted against President Obama's economic stimulus package.

McClintock: This is money that comes directly from the paychecks of working Americans across the country. Actually, it comes from their future paychecks because right now the government doesn't have that money so it has to go out and borrow it.

It borrows it from the same capital pool that would otherwise be available to businesses that are looking for a loan to expand productivity, to homebuyers that are looking to cash in on some really great deals that are out there who can't find loans right now. Why? Because the government is borrowing all that money. And it's a lot of money.

Felde: McClintock says the current version of the stimulus package won't do much to stimulate the economy. He wants more cuts in capital gains taxes and corporate taxes – and he wants a cut in income taxes, too.

McClintock is a big fan of small government – and he's found an ideological ally on Capitol Hill in congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas. As he was in Sacramento, Tom McClintock belongs to the minority party in Washington. But he says not everything's the same.

McClintock: What surprised me the most is how different the whole process and traditions and customs are in the U.S. House of Representatives compared to the state legislature. I've found that I'm not only learning all of the new process here, but I have to unlearn a lot of what I learned in Sacramento.

Felde: He also has to learn his way around the catacombs and dead end hallways of the Capitol. Not that he's complaining.

McClintock: If you have to get lost someplace, that's the best place to do it. It really is a humbling experience to walk those halls and to realize that all of the debates that shaped our nation have taken place in that building.

And for that matter, the debates going on right now are going to shape the future of our nation, perhaps even the survival of our nation. That's pretty heady stuff.

Felde: There are more private debates that go on in the halls of the Capitol Building. It has to do with office space. Congress operates on a seniority system. The longer you're on the Hill, the better your office.

Freshmen pick last and often get sent to Congressional Siberia – broom closets that have been remodeled for the most junior of members. But freshman Tom McClintock has a nice-sized office on the 5th floor of the Cannon Office Building.

McClintock: My wife, who used to be in real estate, took it upon herself to go visit all of the offices that were available for freshmen in the lottery. And the result was – I pulled 28th in the office lottery, but I got my second choice for office space. Good or bad, it's a great address.

Felde: Among McClintock's goals is federal support for a new dam in his district. But that will have to wait until Congress is ready to tackle what's not related to the economic downturn.