Billings Gazette: Gazette opinion: A refreshing display of bipartisanship — and Montana wins
By: Billings Gazette Editorial Board
Alot of lip service is given, particularly in election cycles, to bipartisanship.
But in recent years, it's been harder and harder to find as politics seems to reach new levels of acrimony every week.
That toxic climate is what makes the Senate's passage of a truly bipartisan infrastructure bill so surprising and refreshing.
Montana's Sen. Jon Tester is one of 10 senators - five of each party - who sat down, put partisan differences to the side and hammered out a deal.
"When we were working on it, Republicans argued with Republicans and Democrats with Democrats as much as anything," Tester said. "Party really never entered into it."
Getting 67 senators to support the bill, despite repeated threats from ex-President Trump, was a triumph. Politics aside, let's look at what this bill delivers for Montana:
- At least $2.82 billion for repairs to Montana highways, roads and bridges, plus another $225 million specifically tagged for bridges in poor condition.
- $1 billion to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation, including Fort Peck/Dry Prairie, Rocky Boys/North Central and Mussellshell-Judith rural water systems.
- $144 million for Montana airports.
- Up to $100 million for the decaying and vital Milk River project.
- $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements, including settlements for Montana tribes.
There is far more. Many of the nationwide initiatives will directly and dramatically help Montana, like the $42.45 billion grant program for broadband deployment for areas of the country lacking access to internet service.
One important "small" item is $15 million for the Department of Transportation to study long-distance passenger rail - like the North Coast Hiawatha Route and the southern tier service through Montana. The Tester-proposed Right Track Act and Blocked Railroad Crossing Bill are included to improve safety at rural rail crossings.
Approximately $164 million over five years will go to bolster Montana public-transit infrastructure.
But wait, that's not all. $3.85 billion is allocated to ports of entry on the northern and southern borders to secure and modernize the ports. $3.37 billion will go toward reducing wildfire risk, and more than $7 billion for Army Corps of Engineers flood mitigation infrastructure.
And the list goes on. The impact on Montana "will be multi-generational," Tester said, and it's easy to see that he is correct. This isn't just a bunch of construction jobs that will go away.
It is disappointing that the bill did not win the support of Sen. Steve Daines, who voiced concerns about its impact on federal debt - concerns that ring hollow considering the debt impact of the previous administration's corporate tax cuts, which Daines supported and are massive by comparison to this bill. Also, the difference is that this bill will create lasting improvement in so many areas - not just ease the tax burdens of the wealthy.
Despite the fever dreams of the far left and right wings, most of the work of governing is done in the political center. True bipartisanship never goes out of style and is always appreciated by voters, who can tell the difference between posturing and producing.