WILLMAR -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said he flew to Washington early this week thinking he would vote against a $26 billion emergency jobs bill.
"I don't think we should be spending new money," he said during a visit Friday to Willmar.
Peterson did vote for the bill to provide funding for Medicaid and to save public sector jobs. In the end, he was won over by a plan to pay for it through cuts in future funding for food stamps and by closing tax loopholes. President Obama has already signed it into law.
Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the economic stimulus bill passed more than a year ago had increased future funding for food stamps, which his committee oversees. The last farm bill had already provided an increase for food stamps, he said.
Since he felt that the extra food stamp money could be spared, the switch allowed him to support a program he thinks will help the state's hospitals.
Minnesota is projected to receive $263 million in Medicaid funds and $167 million for schools.
The Minnesota Legislature took the new Medicaid funding into account when it made budget cuts earlier this year, and the state's hospitals have been counting on it. "It's going to make a big difference for them," Peterson said.
Peterson met with Rice Memorial Hospital officials and physicians while in Willmar. He also planned to attend the 4-H livestock auction Friday at the Kandiyohi County Fair.
Peterson said people in his district are still skeptical about a health care reform law passed earlier this year.
Many people don't like the government requiring them to purchase health insurance, but that's the only way the system will be able to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions and provide other benefits that many people want, Peterson said.
He voted against the bill, in part because it offers no cost-containment measures in Medicare, but now that it has passed he has pledged to do what he can to help make the system work.
Republicans have criticized him for not advocating a repeal of the law, but Peterson said it's not realistic to talk about repealing the law. Even if Congress tried to do it, Obama would veto any repeal efforts, he said.
The system does need to change, he added. "I think we will need to tweak a lot of this stuff," he said. "We need to make it work." The bill's major provisions will be phased in over the next four to five years.
Peterson is a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 7th District in Congress, covering most of the western third of Minnesota. He is running for re-election and faces three opponents in the Nov. 2 general election: Republican Lee Byberg of Willmar, Independence Party candidate Glen Menze of Starbuck and independent Gene Waldorf of Grey Eagle.