2 NW Democrats vote no as Congress passes stimulus
WASHINGTON — Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Walt Minnick of Idaho voted no Friday as Congress passed President Barack Obama's $787 billion plan to resuscitate the economy.
They were among just seven Democrats who voted against the plan.
Minnick opposed the stimulus measure last month, but DeFazio switched his vote. He was the only member of Congress to oppose the bill after supporting the initial version.
The House passed the bill 246-183 with no Republicans voting in favor. The Senate followed hours later, 60-38.
All seven Democratic senators from Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Montana voted in favor of the bill. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho opposed it.
"America is in the midst of a jobs crisis. In Oregon, our unemployment rate has gone up a full percentage point every month for the last three months," said freshman Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. "This bill meets that crisis head on by investing in programs that will create jobs now and pave the way for future growth."
Murkowski said Republicans support a stimulus plan, but believe much of the spending in the Democratic bill is wasteful, including hundreds of millions for new government cars and golf carts.
DeFazio said in an interview that he was concerned that just $64 billion went to transportation and infrastructure — just 8 percent of the overall bill.
He also said the measure was too heavily weighted toward tax cuts.
"We started out with a lot of talk about timely, targeted and temporary, and a whole lot of talk about infrastructure. And we have ended up with a bill that contains four times as much money for tax cuts as it does for infrastructure and putting people back to work," DeFazio said.
DeFazio chairs the highways and transit subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said the tax cuts are not going to help rebuild 160,000 bridges in need of repair nationwide, including thousands in Oregon.
The latest version of the stimulus bill cuts about 700,000 jobs nationwide from the version adopted by the House in January, DeFazio said.
Minnick said both versions of the bill would add to what already is a record federal budget deficit. "The consequences of this bill will be painful and possibly harsh for those tasked with the burden of paying for what has been passed today," he said.
Minnick last week introduced a smaller stimulus bill that would have appropriated $74 billion for school modernization, job training and bridge and road projects, and $100 billion in targeted tax cuts.
"My bill was a high-powered rifle. This bill is a shotgun, and it will add nearly $1 trillion we do not have to a debt already out of control," Minnick said.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., supported the bill, which he said will create or save an estimated 44,000 jobs in Oregon.
"Thousands of Oregonians have been added to the ranks of the uninsured, having lost their health insurance because of circumstances at work or because they simply could no longer afford the monthly premium," Blumenauer said in a statement.
The stimulus bill will help tens of thousands of Oregonians keep their health insurance, make insurance payments and better prepare for the future, Blumenauer said.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said the bill will help those hurt the most by the recession and set a foundation for economic recovery and long-term growth. The bill invests in roads, highways and transit — including ferries — and helps hungry families, modernizes schools and cuts taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, Larsen said.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said the bill simply enlarged government at the expense of taxpayers.
"The Pelosi deal is filled with wasteful spending that will do nothing to jump-start the economy but will permanently bloat the federal government and make future tax increases inevitable," Rehberg said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. "While Montana needs and deserves a stimulus bill that creates jobs and boosts the economy, all we got today was a bigger federal government."
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he, too, was concerned about the growing deficit, but said threats to the economy are real and that doing nothing was not an option.
"We must use this crisis as an opportunity to invest in our country and build a stronger and more prosperous future," Smith said, adding that the bill is the right size and scope to help stimulate the economy and lay a foundation for long-term economic growth.
"Our economy is in a freefall and this bill, while not perfect, provides a much-needed parachute," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. "We are seeing 100,000 jobs a week disappear and we are dealing with the most disastrous economic conditions since the Great Depression. We have to get people back to work, and this legislation takes major steps to ensure that happens."
But Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, complained that only $48 billion or 6 percent of the total package is devoted to transportation infrastructure.
"This bill was not a stimulus bill, it was a vehicle for pet projects, and that's wrong," Young said.
Majority Democrats drafted the bill "by cover of night, without any input from the other side of the aisle and without full disclosure to the American people," Young said.