ST. PAUL - Two Democratic Minnesota U.S. House committee chairmen broke on opposite sides of the economic stimulus package the House passed Wednesday night.
Jim Oberstar, who serves northeast and east-central Minnesota, was one of its strongest supporters. Collin Peterson, whose district encompasses most of western Minnesota, joined 10 other Democrats and all House Republicans in voting against the measure.
The $819 billion package passed 244-118. Senators are expected to take up a slightly different package next week.
Peterson, a fiscally conservative group of Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, said: "In this difficult economy, many in Congress are rushing to write and pass another massive federal spending bill. In my view, what we're considering will not solve our problems, and may in fact make matters worse."
Peterson, chairman of the Agriculture committee, said the bill does not limit itself to job creation programs. He said it should have focused on "programs directly resulting in job creation and infrastructure projects, and for unemployment compensation and food stamps."
Oberstar, on the other hand, was one of the bill's authors. He said it would create 91,000 Minnesota jobs.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman said Minnesota has 200 road and bridge projects that would qualify for $477 million from the package.
"I am confident that if the president signs this bill before the middle of February we could have a million people at work on construction jobs by the first week of June," Oberstar said.
The long-time congressman said he will make sure jobs are created.
"Every 30 days, we're going to hold a hearing to report on the jobs created, the contracts that are in place, the skills that are at work, the payroll by each of the contractors, and we will report to the nation on what is happening in the workplace," Oberstar said.
However, Peterson complained that the country will have to borrow money overseas to fund the package.
"Every dollar added to this bill will have to be borrowed from countries like China and Japan, because we don't have the money to pay for it ourselves," Peterson said. "We will increase the national debt and send the bill to our children and grandchildren. This is what we've been doing for the last eight years and it's got to stop."
Peterson said Congress is rushing to meet "an artificial deadline" of mid-February. "We should be taking time to ensure thoughtful and carefully targeted allocation of the public's money."
Rep. Tim Walz, a southern Minnesota Democrat, represents an area similar to that of Peterson's district, but voted in favor of the measure.
"Our economy is in crisis and people are hurting," Walz said. "We're going to turn this crisis into a job-creating opportunity, putting 3 to 4 million people back to work rebuilding our country and preparing America for the future. This is one of those times in our history when doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much. Clearly, it won't be easy but America's better days are still to come."
Walz said experts predict 90 percent of jobs created under the bill would be in the private sector.
"The Congress and president must act quickly because the situation continues to worsen by the day,:" Walz said. "Most importantly, this must be done in an open and transparent way, inviting people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum to become a part of the solution."