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WASHINGTON - For U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of only 11 House Democrats who voted against President Obama's stimulus package this week, it wasn't easy saying no.
"The public has such high hopes for Obama," Peterson said in a late-week interview as he boarded a flight back to Minnesota. "I would have liked to be able to support it. But I just don't agree with what's going on here."
The centrist DFLer from Detroit Lakes has one of the lowest party loyalty ratings in the Minnesota congressional delegation, according to Congressional Quarterly. But he supported Obama and remains in good stead with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who has been to his district and appreciates its rural independence.
"I talked to her right before the vote," Peterson said. "She didn't even ask me to vote for it. She knew it wasn't going to do any good."
Last week, as Agriculture Committee chairman, Peterson had talked up stimulus money to modernize computers in the U.S. Agriculture Department. But by Wednesday night, when the final vote was taken, Peterson was counted among just under a dozen Democrats from conservative districts who crossed party lines.
"Bottom line, I don't think this is going to solve the problem," he said.
Like a lot of House Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition to the $819 billion bill, Peterson was uncomfortable with the idea of some $550 billion in deficit spending, much of it to help state and local governments deliver health care, education, transportation and other key government services.
"I would have been in favor of borrowing money if it was going to go to actual infrastructure projects, or for unemployment and food stamps," he said. While much has been made of the need to put people back to work rebuilding the nation's aging infrastructure, the bill passed by the House earmarks just $45 billion specifically for that purpose.
But Peterson, a charter member of the Democrats' fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" caucus, parts company with many GOP critics of the bill in that he also opposed provisions for some $275 billion in tax cuts.
Peterson also opposes tax cuts
"We did that before, and it didn't work," said Peterson, alluding to the Bush administration tax rebates that went out last year, as the economy continued to teeter.
Although the stimulus bill passed 244-188, Democrats paid a small price for the 11 Democratic defections, especially in the face of solid GOP opposition.
It allowed Republican leaders in the House to claim "bipartisan opposition" to the stimulus package -- exactly the reverse of the kind of bipartisan support the new Obama administration sought for its first major initiative.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2723