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For Peterson, fiscal cliff bill puts budget 'further behind'

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ST. PAUL - U.S. Representative Collin Peterson, an accountant before turning politician, could not support budget legislation passed on New Year's night because it will grow the federal deficit by $3.9 trillion.

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"They spent more than they raised," the western Minnesota Democratic congressman said about those who voted for the measure in the name of deficit control. "So we are further behind."

While more Democrats than Republicans voted for the bill to continue most tax cuts adopted under President George W. Bush, several from the Upper Midwest bucked the trend. Peterson was among the most vocal Wednesday.

Some news organizations reported that Peterson opposed the measure because it only extended current farm law instead of approving a farm bill he helped write.

"They could have put exactly what I wanted in there for the farm bill and I still would have voted against it," the congressman said.

Why? Ask the accountant in him.

"It doesn't do anything to stop spending money we don't have," Peterson said. "We missed an opportunity here to do what we needed to have done. The whole process got hijacked by politics and this hysteria over the fiscal cliff."

The budget measure passed the Senate 89-8 on New Year's Eve and the House 257-167 New Year's night.

In the House, under GOP control, some House leaders were forced to figuratively hold their noses and vote for the measure, negotiated by top congressional leaders and the White House.

One was Representative John Kline, who represents an area south of the Twin Cities. He is the House education and labor committee chairman.

Kline issued a statement, but a spokesman said he was too busy for an interview.

"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 his statement, adding that the House in August passed legislation to stop tax increases and to make "common sense" spending cuts.

"Yet, the president never called for the Senate to act on those bills, instead allowing the Democrat-controlled chamber to lead our economy and all Americans over the fiscal cliff," he said.

Most in Congress remained mum on the issue Wednesday.

All senators of both parties from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin voted for the measure, but they were split in the House.

Peterson was the only House Democrat in those four states to oppose the bill. Besides Kline, Republicans from the four states voting for the measure were Representatives Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Reid Ribble and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

It was a no-brainer for Peterson to oppose the bill.

The bill, negotiated between President Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders, increases spending by $30 billion on unemployment programs, $25 billion on Medicare and $227 billion on other federal programs, Peterson said, all in a time when the national debt is rising.

"I can't do that," Peterson said. "I'm a CPA and it does not make sense to me."

The Detroit Lakes resident has voted opposite his party in the past, earning a reputation as one of the most moderate Democrats in Washington.

One of the big problems Peterson has with the fiscal cliff bill is that it did not deal with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, known as sequestration, that will be needed over the next decade.

The Pure Pierre Politics blog reported that Republican Noem voted for the bill because it "protected 99 percent of South Dakotans from President Obama reaching into their pockets and taking more of their hard-earned money to subsidize his continued deficit spending."

Senator Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said he, too, was glad middle-class taxpayers were spared tax increases.

"It was also important for me that the legislation asks millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rates they did during the Clinton administration," Johnson said. "We can't get our fiscal house in order on the backs of the elderly and students."

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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