Havre Daily News: Tester talks appropriations, drug crisis, Medicaid

by Patrick Johnston

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a press call Thursday to discuss a number of legislative issues, including the looming deadline for a government shutdown, which will occur at midnight tonight if lawmakers cannot pass a series of long-debated spending bills.

Tester is running for re-election and faces Michael Hummers of Helena in the Democratic primary.

Tester said Thursday he thinks the final appropriations bills will be passed before the deadline, but he remains frustrated that partisan politics have held up the process for nearly half a year.

The House passed the bill before print deadline this morning, and the Senate has until midnight to vote.

“This should have been done six months ago,” he said.

He said a shutdown would be disastrous not just for the government, but for the U.S. economy at large, the nation’s small businesses, and the people of the country’s military.

He said U.S. armed forces need the resources allocated in these bills to counter evolving threats from adversarial nations like China, and law enforcement needs the resources to deal with domestic threats like the situation at the U.S. southern border.

Tester said the bills include targeted funds for reinforcing the U.S. nuclear triad, as well as bases like Malmstrom Airforce base, and $105 million for defense-related research at the University of Montana, $87 million for defense-related projects being worked on by Montana businesses and stakeholders, and hundreds of millions for the creation of new aircraft and fueling stations.

He said that passing yet another continuing resolution will only hurt national security.

He also said the bills include language that will protect veterans’ access to affordable housing, health care and legal firearms.

Other resources, Tester said, will go to law enforcement to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.

He said Native American reservations are especially vulnerable due to a lack of law enforcement, which he said has allowed drug cartels to move in and do business there.

Tester also talked about a resolution he’s championing to reverse the Joe Biden administration’s decision to start importing Paraguayan beef to the U.S. despite the concerns of many about the nation’s history of lax beef production standards and foot-in-mouth disease.

He said if data can be produced showing that Paraguay is holding itself to the same standards as United States then he would retract his objection, but at this point he considered the import of beef from Paraguay as a threat to U.S. herds.

The resolution passed the Senate 70 to 25, but still needs to be voted on by the House to make it to the president.

During the call, Tester was asked about the more than 24,000 children in the state who have been dropped from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and whether there is something the federal government can do.

Tester said the children who are part of this program need help, and bear no responsibility for the circumstances they find themselves in, and the fact that this is being allowed to happen makes him furious.

He said things are being done on the national level to try to address the issue, but the most important thing is to keep the pressure up on the state to make sure these children are taken care of.

In December of last year U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra sent a letter to the state saying he was “deeply alarmed” by how many children were being kicked off the program as Medicaid eligibility across the U.S. is being reevaluated, with Montana having had the fourth-largest percentage drop in children enrolled in the Medicaid and CHIP.