House Democrat Explains His 'No' Vote

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Seven Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted against President Obama's stimulus package. One of them was Walter Minnick, who's newly elected from a rural and conservative part of Idaho. He tells Steve Inskeep that he voted against the plan because it cost too much in taxpayer money.


Now, while some Republicans welcomed the president's economic plan, a few Democrats in Congress voted against it. One of them was Walter Minnick. He's newly elected from a very rural and very conservative part of Idaho.

Representative WALTER MINNICK (Democrat, Idaho): We all recognize that in a recession this severe, the federal government has to do something. The issue is how much should we spend to create jobs and how do we ensure that this is a one-time event and not a continuation of piling up debt that our kids and grandkids are going to having to repay.

INSKEEP: Well, now when you looked at the details of this, what you made you think that it was going to fail in those criteria so badly that you voted no?

Rep. MINNICK: Well, the cost per job is the thing that jumped out at me. I've only been a congressman six weeks, but I've been a businessman all my life, and it's costing us, depending on number of jobs created, north of a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money for every job we create. I was also concerned that - depending upon the estimate, 30 to 50 percent of these jobs aren't even going to be created for three to five years, and by that time we need to be out of this recession. So it's inefficient from both of those perspectives.

INSKEEP: Did you get a groundswell of opposition from your constituents about this?

Rep. MINNICK: My constituents are very tight with the dollar. We're a poor district. We're not used to borrowing and spending money. My constituents by and large, while they want to support the president, have great reluctance about spending this much money to create that few jobs. And the spending on other worthwhile aspects of this bill, my constituents think, that should have been considered separately, against a budget target. I also favor that approach. I think the energy, education, and healthcare provisions should have been considered as a secondary process after we created jobs in a tax-efficient way.

INSKEEP: Although while given the deficit and debt situations, if you did consider those within the framework of trying to balance the budget or even move in that direction, you wouldn't do any of this stuff.

Rep. MINNICK: Well, look at the electronic medical records, for example. Six years ago I was lying beside a highway in rural Idaho with a broken neck, and there's no question that my medical care would have been easier and better if those EMT technicians had access over their computer to my health records. They would have known whether I was a diabetic or whether I had allergies as they were treating me. So no one disagrees that that would improve healthcare in America, but that kind of provision should have been considered separately by a committee dealing with healthcare issues, and the value of doing that now weighed against things that should wait until later.

INSKEEP: So your larger point is that you see worthy spending here, but maybe it should have been considered in a different way. And I want to ask you this. There weren't a lot of Democrats who voted no, but I wonder if there is some tension ahead for the Democratic Party over this question of how much to spend on what seem like worthy goals in the coming years.

Rep. MINNICK: Clearly I'm a conservative Blue Dog Democrat and we are very, very concerned about getting to balanced budgets and paying for what we spend because we are concerned about this mountain of debt. And we're also concerned about whether these foreign lenders who don't exactly have our nation's best interest as their first priority are going to continue to lend. And fiscally conservative Democrats like me are very, very concerned that we not get into that situation, and that's why we want to spend the minimum number of dollars to create the maximum number of jobs in the short term in any jobs creation bill. And frankly, we thought this provision failed that test.

INSKEEP: Congressman Walt Minnick of Idaho, thanks for taking the time.

Rep. MINNICK: Thanks very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's one of about 50 so-called Blue Dog or conservative Democrats. He's not sure they'll always be with the president, though most sided with President Obama this time.

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