Rep. Becerra talks about stimulus package, being in leadership

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Today's election day in the city of Los Angeles. Eight years ago, Congressman Xavier Becerra was on the ballot as a candidate for mayor. He finished fifth. Since then, he's flourished in Congress, rising to the top ranks of the Democratic leadership. President Obama offered him the job of U.S. Trade Representative. Becerra turned it down to keep his leadership post. The Los Angeles congressman has played a key role in shaping the stimulus package. In an interview with KPCC's Frank Stoltze, he said the federal government will distribute the stimulus money in two ways.

Xavier Becerra: One is based on a formula that uses a pretty fixed variable, or number of variables, to determine how you send out the money. Principally, population. You have a large population, you'll get a larger share of the money.

The second way we distribute the dollars is through a competitive grant-making process. You've got to submit a proposal. How good a proposal is it will determine how much money you get.

And so, you hope that you're being fair by making sure that everybody gets some money, because everybody contributes taxes – at the same time, you try to look for those good programs that you really want to support.

Frank Stoltze: And there'll be a little bit of lobbying, too, for these funds.

Becerra: (groans) There'll be tremendous lobbying. And, more importantly than the lobbying, there'll be tremendous oversight. If this doesn't work, we're all in trouble, and it will be nearly impossible to believe that the American public will let us try to invest in these types of programs and infrastructure projects again.

The public is already so soured by the financial services bailout – the banks got hundreds of billions of dollars, we don't know what happened to it – and so people are saying, why should we do this?

Stoltze: You're in a leadership post in the House now. I think you're vice chair of the Democratic caucus?

Becerra: Right. That's right.

Stoltze: What's the job of the vice chair of the Democratic caucus?

Becerra: The role of the vice chair, along with the chair of the Democratic caucus – to try to provide the information to the members of the caucus so that we can work as a unit, work as a caucus, to try to achieve our legislative agenda.

Information about the legislation, offering people a chance to communicate directly with the leadership – the speaker of the House, the majority leader.

Stoltze: So you're the go-between?

Becerra: In many ways, we're the gophers.

Stoltze: Sounds like a bit of a thankless job.

Becerra: You know what, you get to know the members very well. You get a very clear understanding of what the pulse of the House, of the Congress, is.

And you also have a chance to be in those small rooms when those final decisions are getting made. It's a fascinating place to be because typically you get two bites of the apple to make sure things are being done correctly.

You get one bite when you're in committee, trying to help shape legislation – and since I sit on the Ways and Means Committee, I have a chance to shape a lot of very important legislation – but sitting at the leadership table, I get to look at that legislation a second time.

Stoltze: You are the number five person in the leadership structure of the Democratic Party in the House. You aspire to be speaker of the House someday?

Becerra: I aspire to do as much as I can with what I've been given, and I've learned not to say no to anything, and if the opportunity presents itself, and if people believe there's value in me doing something else that can help this country a bit more, I'll look at that.

Stoltze: You think you have a shot at speaker?

Becerra: Oh, I certainly think that any of us who are in leadership, if we work it hard, and can gain the support, and show that we have the skills to get there, can move in that direction, but I don't think Nancy Pelosi's looking to move anywhere for quite some time.

And I want to make sure that nobody moves her, because I respect what she has done. I like waking up in the morning knowing that the speaker of the House of Representatives, she's got my back.