MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A conservative Blue Dog Democrat from Minnesota who broke ranks with most members of his party by voting against a bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff said Wednesday it fails to cut spending enough and won't prevent another political showdown.
Rep. Collin Peterson was the only Minnesota Democrat to vote no when the House passed the bill 257-167 late Tuesday night, while Rep. John Kline was the only Minnesota Republican to vote yes. Democrats Tim Walz, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison supported the bill while Republicans Erik Paulsen, Michele Bachmann and Chip Cravaack opposed it.
Peterson, who was one of only 16 Democrats to vote against the final deal, called it "a joke." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that the legislation will add nearly $4 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade compared with what would have happened if Congress had done nothing and let taxes increase. Like many Republicans, Peterson said the package should have included substantial spending cuts.
"We're I don't know how many trillion dollars in debt and we added $4 trillion more to the deficit. ... We can't keep spending money we don't have," Peterson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, had long opposed a short-term extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which became part of the final deal. He wanted a new five-year farm bill to be part of the plan, including a dairy policy overhaul that he authored but that did not make it into the bill. Instead, the final bill keeps current farm programs in place for now, and averted a potential doubling of milk prices. But Peterson said he would have voted no even if the bill had included the farm provisions he sought.
"The message from all those folks yesterday, including the White House, is that Americans are not willing to pay their bills. I don't believe that. I believe Americans are willing to pay their bills. It's just that we (in Washington) won't do what has to be done," Peterson said.
While Kline was in a minority as one of 85 Republicans who voted yes, he called on President Barack Obama to work with Congress to cut spending.
"While I am pleased tax relief for the middle class and small businesses is made permanent by this bipartisan legislation, the sobering reality is our nation remains in a debt crisis caused by reckless, runaway spending that is killing jobs and threatening the future of our children and grandchildren," Kline said in a statement.
Paulsen's vote against the bill sparked speculation that he was trying to avoid angering conservative Republican voters in case he runs for another office in 2014. He has been mentioned as a potential opponent for Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who voted for the bill early Tuesday morning, as did Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
But Paulsen dismissed the speculation as "ridiculous." He told the AP he intends to run for re-election to the House in 2014. He said he voted no because the bill "doesn't provide a meaningful solution" for cutting deficit spending.
Paulsen also objected because the bill contained tax breaks for some special interests such as NASCAR, but no relief for manufacturers such as Minnesota-based Medtronic Inc. and St. Jude Medical Inc. from a medical device tax that took effect Tuesday that's meant to help fund the Obama administration's health care overhaul. Paulsen, supported by other members of the state's congressional delegation, led an unsuccessful fight to repeal the 2.3 percent tax on devices such as pacemakers.
Paulsen said he tried to get a repeal included in the final bill and would have leaned toward voting for it if he had succeeded because medical devices is one of Minnesota's most vital industries. But he said it still would not have been an easy vote for him.
Combined with such tax increases, Bachmann said, the bill is "a recipe for an anemic recovery" that won't create jobs.
Minnesota Democrats who stood with Obama and voted for the bill also found reasons to criticize it. Ellison said it "tees up an even more difficult fight in two months" over raising the debt ceiling and deep automatic cuts to military and domestic spending that were deferred until then as part of the bill.
Peterson agreed, saying the bill just delays the inevitable.
"If you think this was something, wait 'til you see what happens two or three months from now," he said.
Walz said he was "deeply disappointed" with the nine-month farm bill extension. But he said the budget bill protects middle class families from an income tax increase and extends a wind energy tax credit that he said will create jobs in Minnesota and move the country toward energy independence.
Like Paulsen, McCollum noted that the bill extended some existing tax breaks that have come under criticism, including one that helps NASCAR build racetracks. But McCollum said the bill protects Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and extends benefits for the unemployed.