Tester says housing market must turn around

Great Falls Tribune

by Jo Dee Black

The country's housing market needs to turn around or the economy will continue to flounder.

That was one observation U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., offered to about 200 people in attendance at the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce's Quarterly Luncheon at the Holiday Inn on Friday afternoon.

Those comments came after Great Falls Association of Realtors President Jim Dea asked if government subsidies for entities such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which oversee low-interest mortgage programs for veterans and first-time homebuyers, are in jeopardy.

"If those programs went away, it would be devastating," Tester said. "But there has to be some changes, either radical changes within those organizations, or clear directions from Congress."

Tester arrived at the event after flying back to Montana on Friday morning from Washington, D.C. He said he typically comes back to the state on Thursdays, but stayed an extra day for President Barack Obama's speech Thursday evening.

Cutting government spending and reducing the national debt will take center stage in Washington in the months ahead, according to Tester.

"It's a process that will require putting party differences aside, and putting all options on the table," Tester said. "As Montanans and Americans, we get that. We know that there will be an element of shared sacrifice and we're ready, but what matters most to me is that rural America shouldn't feel more than our share of pain."

Some government programs are off the table when it comes to cuts, he said.

"At a time when we have a record number of service members coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan … this is not the time to cut the VA (Veterans' Administration) budget," he said. "We have to acknowledge that, this is a cost of war and this not the time to make cuts in those programs and benefits."

Tester said he is optimistic that the federal budget will be tightened.

"All this can be done, it's not that tough, and I personally think it will get done," he said. "The message we all got during summer break, in fact I heard it this morning as I walked through the Salt Lake City airport, is that Congress has to start working together. The time for lines in the sand and partisanship and saying no to everything is over. The public is fed up — and we know that."

In other Chamber luncheon activity:

» Tara Tonaus, a universal banker at US Bank since 2008, was named the Ambassador of the Quarter. The Chamber's ambassadors volunteer at events such as Business After Hours and ribbon cuttings.

» Pacific Steel & Recycling was presented with the Business of the Quarter award.