Tester urges Democrats, GOP to reach budget deal

Christopher Doering

by Great Falls Tribune

WASHINGTON – Congress risks causing long-term damage to the country if it doesn’t reach a budget deal before the end of September, Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday.

In a speech on the Senate floor, the Democrat said the failure of Congress to come up with a bipartisan, long-term spending plan two years ago had “devastating effects” in Montana and across the country. He warned of a similar negative impact if Congress fails to approve a budget deal before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“It will be again, if Congress doesn’t act. Between now and Sept. 30th, Congress must pass a responsible budget that reduces our deficit,” Tester, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in his speech. “But we have time to agree on that or we will face greater cuts than we saw last time.”

Two years ago, the lack of a deal resulted in mandatory cuts in spending government-wide, a process known as sequestration. Tester said that damaged wildfire fighting efforts in national forests, reduced education and healthcare services to Native Americans and services for seniors and low-income families. Those cuts were especially damaging to states such as Montana, he said.

During his 11-minute speech, Tester said the Obama administration’s plan fails to enact meaningful cuts that reduce the deficit, while the Republican Senate budget resolution lacks measures to grow the economy and invest in America. Senate Republicans said their fiscal blueprint, which does not have the force of law, would balance the budget within a decade without raising taxes. It would increase military spending, potentially pave the way for a renewed effort to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act and make cuts to the popular Pell Grant program that help students pay for college.

Tester said while the Republican plan would make cuts, it would hurt the public in the process. For example, he noted it would end a pair of tax credits used by millions of working families with low incomes to stay out of poverty. And in Montana students are graduating college with more than $27,000 in student loans, many of whom depend on a Pell Grant.

“While the president’s budget spends far too much, at least it’s honest, open and transparent. The (Republican) House and Senate bills are just a display of bad mathematics,” Tester said.

“Instead of balancing this budget on the back of middle class families and seniors and students and our nation’s most vulnerable, we need to fully invest in the things that help our economy go, like roads and bridges, our outdoor economy, education for our kids and our grandkids, because that’s the only way they are going to be able to compete in this global economy,” Tester said.

Tester said the United States could use billions in money it “wastes” overseas to reduce spending. He said two of America’s biggest threats, the Islamic State and a nuclear Iran, are issues that also impact countries in the Middle East and Europe. But Tester said it’s the United States that is left paying the majority of the costs to deal with these conflicts.