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Peterson opposed tax cuts

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., pauses during an interview Tuesday at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- An emphasis on tax cuts over infrastructure led U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson to vote against the economic stimulus bill which President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

"You know, I was very disappointed the infrastructure was cut back as much as it was," Peterson said Tuesday when he visited Willmar. About $60 billion of the $789 billion bill was dedicated to public works projects.

"I would have supported 750 billion dollars of infrastructure -- roads, bridges, railroads, locks and dams, transit, that kind of stuff," Peterson said. The nation has a $2.2 trillion backlog of public projects that the bill could have addressed, he added.

"I think if we're going to borrow money, we should have put it into things that we're going to have to do that are long-term capital assets," he said. He would have supported borrowing to increase unemployment benefits, to help unemployed people keep their health care and to increase food stamps.

"That's the bill I would have voted for and that's what I thought we were going to do, we were going to put money into infrastructure," he said. The problem for him was borrowing $300 million to provide tax cuts.

Peterson said he wasn't pressured by fellow Democrats to vote for the bill, because he had made his position clear to them for several weeks. "It's hard for me to go against everything I've been for all of a sudden."

Most of the Democrats who voted against the bill were Blue Dogs, a coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats who advocate a pay-as-you-go approach to funding government. Peterson is one of two founding members of the group, which was formed in the 1990s.

Peterson said his constituents seem to agree with him. Calls to his offices in the 7th Congressional District ran about 100-to-1 against the stimulus bill. The district covers most of the western third of Minnesota.

At a large DFL gathering Monday in Bemidji, "I expected to catch hell about this," he said. "Every single person that came up to me said they agreed with me."

Even though he didn't support Obama's stimulus package, Peterson said, he is impressed by the president's first month in office.

"You know I don't agree with everything he's done, but he's in a tough spot," he said. "On the stimulus, he should have taken control of this and wrote his own bill rather than let Congress do it, but he'll learn."

"Stable" and "unflappable" were some of the words he used to describe the new president. "He really gets at the heart of things, so I'm encouraged," he said. "I like what I see, and I hear this from Republicans, that they like him."

While in Willmar, Peterson met with the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and also met with leaders at the MinnWest Technology Campus. At MinnWest, they talked about ways they may be able to work together.