Who cast the most meaningful vote on the final version of the federal “stimulus” legislation?

Here’s a hint: It was not one of the Republican senators who extracted extreme compromises — in the form of ridiculous and unnecessary tax-restructuring schemes — from unfocused Democrats.

Nor was it one of the handful of “Blue Dog” Democrats in the House who voted against the initial good version of the bill — which was carefully constructed by Appropriations Committee chair David Obey to spend the proper mix of money on job creation and retention while aiding the unemployed — but voted for the final not-so-good-version.

And it certainly wasn’t the lockstep Republican partisans who gutted key job-creation and small-business supporting portions of the bill, voted “no” on everything and then turned around and claimed they wanted to spend more money on job creation and small-business supports.

The most meaningful vote on the final version of the stimulus measure — which was approved Friday by both the House and Senate was cast by Oregon Congressman Pete DeFazio.

A progressive Democrat who voted for the initial, Obey-written House measure, DeFazio switched to vote against the Republican-dictated rewrite.

The final version, argued DeFazio, was an insufficient response to the economic crisis — not to mention a wasteful measure larded down with unnecessary and ineffectual tax cuts.

“I supported the original objective to have a bill that was timely, targeted and temporary. Instead, we ended up with a huge grab bag, some of which is good like the $80 billion to fix our crumbling infrastructure or the money to educate our children, but there are hundreds of billions of dollars in excessive tax cuts that will do little to stimulate our economy or put our nation on the road to recovery,” DeFazio explained. “I could support borrowing money for infrastructure investments that will produce a product for generations to come but not $326 billion for tax cuts which will provide limited relief for working families and little economic stimulus. Infrastructure funding is a proven way to put thousands of people in the hard hit construction industry back to work and yet, infrastructure spending doesn’t even account for 10 percent of the funds in the bill.”

DeFazio, arguably the House’s most ardent and consistent champion of New Deal-style infrastructure investment, explains that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 34,779 jobs and $6.2 billion in economic activity. Based on his own experience as a ten-term member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the congressman — and on stacks of public and private studies on the impact of federal spending — he explains that investing in infrastructure is “an excellent way to stimulate the economy as opposed to the majority of tax cuts in this bill which will provide no economic stimulus.”

Democrats and responsible Republicans may differ about whether it was a wise idea to support the final version of the stimulus package — the vast majority of Democrats, many of whom were disappointed in the bill, voted for it; the vast majority of Republicans, objecting that even a bill substantially defined by their demands was still too ambitious in its attempt to jumpstart an economy hobbled during an era of GOP dominace of the executive and legislative branches.

But, at the most fundamental level, DeFazio is right about this bill. It steals from the future by borrowing money to pay for more than $300 billion in tax cuts which will provide limited relief for working families and little economic stimulus. And it does not invest adequate amounts of money in infrastructure programs that actually create jobs and benefit communities that have devastated by layoffs and plant closings.

“I don’t believe… that this bill is what we need to turn this country around and put us on the path to economic recovery,” says DeFazio. “The $326 billion in tax cuts won’t build bridges, educate our children or even fill in potholes. I voted no because I believe we should have spent this money more wisely but I will continue fighting to for those things that are necessary to the recovery of our economy.”

There are few rewards in Congress for being serious about the consequences of legislation — and fewer still for being right.

But Pete DeFazio is not looking for rewards. Unlike most of the rest of official Washington — which has yet to get serious about the current crisis — the congressman from Oregon knows what needs to be done to renew the American economy, and he is serious about doing it.

That’s why his vote was the most meaningful one cast last week. And that’s why we should all be paying attention to what DeFazio says in the weeks and months to come.

In a Washington where the political class is still largely clueless, Pete DeFazio gets it.