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Congressman Collin Peterson, pictured in March 2012. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Peterson lashes out against budget legislation deal

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ST. PAUL - Rep. Collin Peterson, an accountant before turning politician, could not support budget legislation passed Tuesday because it will grow the federal deficit by $3.9 trillion, and he wasn't shy in explaining himself.

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The western Minnesota Democratic congressman told Forum News Service on Wednesday the tax deal was "hijacked" because of fiscal cliff "hysteria." In an interview with Politico, he described the compromise as "crazy."

"They spent more than they raised," said Peterson 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 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 the next night.

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.

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., finishing his sole term as the state's congressman, said he was disappointed by the last-minute action.

"Fundamentally, it does not move our country (forward)," Berg said. "This is what's wrong out in Washington. So many decisions are not made until the last minute, and then they're just kicked down the road a little bit. You're going to have the same debate, the same discussion, within the next 90 days as we reach the debt ceiling limit and the end of appropriation funding for this last year."

Berg said he would have preferred Congress had kept the tax rates steady for another 12 months, and re-written the tax code to remove loopholes.

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

The bill, negotiated between Democratic 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 ag committee cut

$35 billion in the farm bill it passed, but House leaders never allowed the full body to consider the bill. That cut was sought by top Republicans, but Peterson said other committees did not comply by finding cuts in their parts of the budget.

"The committees that were irresponsible and didn't do their work got what they wanted, and the Agriculture Committee got screwed," Peterson said. "It is a little hard for me to swallow."

"The message it sends to me is don't do your job, don't be responsible, because we were disrespected."

Peterson has a bipartisan distaste about the process, including Obama and congressional leaders of both parties who made farm bill decisions with little input from others: "I'm not happy with anyone."

The day before starting his 12th term in Congress today, he told Politico he was upset enough with the Obama administration that he is "done with them for the next four years. They are on their own."

"Going forward, we have this whole mess coming," Peterson said in the Forum News Service interview. "And, frankly, the way this place operates, I won't have anything to say about it. It is going to be done at a high level."

Peterson sounded pessimistic. "Until we get some sensible people down here ..." he said before his voice trailed off.

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Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt and Jonathan Knutson of Agweek magazine contributed to this story.

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