The Progressive Gadfly: DeFazio Explains His ‘No’ on Stimulus

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Looking through the vote tally at the seven House Democrats who opposed the final stimulus bill today, you see reliably right-leaning members of the party’s Blue Dog Coalition: Reps. Heath Shuler (D-NC), Bobby Bright (D-AL), Walt Minnick (D-ID), Pete DeFazio (D-OR) … hold on.

DeFazio is a stalwart liberal and member of the Progressive Caucus. Why would he vote against the bill his party and president backed so strongly?

As DeFazio explained following the vote, he believed in the bill’s education and transportation goals — though he has long decried the stimulus’ shortchanging of infrastructure relative to highways. “I couldn’t justify borrowing money for tax cuts,” he said. Tax breaks make up more than 35% of the final stimulus bill.

“Come on, school construction?” he asked, visibly frustrated that money for that goal had been sliced from the bill. “Why did that have to come out for more tax cuts?”

When asked about the need to bridge the gap between the House and Senate bills in order to win over the three GOP votes needed to prevent a filibuster, DeFazio was as blunt as can be: “We all know that’s a convenient artifice from the Senate … do away with the filibuster or have a real filibuster. It’s convenient for [the Senate]. It gives them clout to push around the House and the president.”

Whether you agree with DeFazio or not, liberal Democrats have rarely felt free to buck their party on major votes in recent years. It remains to be seen how the Obama administration and DeFazio’s leadership will view his stance.

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