Tester encouraged by bipartisanship work
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., discussed recent signs of bipartisanship in Washington and how they are paying off for Montanans in the form of Medicare payments and increased law enforcement.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Congress managed to pass a bill this month that fixed the way doctors are reimbursed for seeing Medicare patients.
“If Congress had not acted, doctors would have seen a 21 percent cut in their reimbursement rate, which means many seniors would have been left without treatments for their illnesses,” he said. “It’s a big deal for a state where one in five Montanans are Medicare eligible.”
The bill also included funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which the senator noted insures about 30,000 children in Montana. Tester also touted the bills support of rural ambulance services and secure rural schools for the next two years.
“From an ambulance standpoint, there would’ve been a 3 percent cut in rural areas, which is much of Montana, and 25.6 percent cut in highly rural areas which is a huge part of Montana,” he said. “The impact to Montana would have been substantial and would have hurt. (Without this bill) the money would have had to come from somewhere else or the program would have been cut.”
Tester also addresses last week’s approval of Loretta Lynch as the new U.S. Attorney General, making her the first black woman to hold the position. Lynch passed the Senate 56-43 on Thursday after more than five months of being held up in the process.
Tester said it was a shame it took five months for the nomination to be approved, noting it was longer than the time it took to approve the last seven attorney generals combined.
“I met with her in December when she was first put up by the president,” he said. “I think she is as qualified an attorney general as we’ve ever had in this country.
Ultimately, she got support from both sides of the aisle, which is positive.”
Tester said he didn’t believe anything had changed within Congress that allowed for these deals to go through, but that individuals were finally applying pressure to the right places.
“Take Loretta Lynch, she was hung out there for five months,” Tester said. “There was a lot of pressure from all over the country to get her confirmed because a lot of people want law enforcement to get done. The pressure was put on Democrats and Republicans alike, and they finally came together and did the right thing.
“The highway bill,” he continued, “used to be a slam dunk. Everyone (in Congress) knew if we didn’t have a highway bill we wouldn’t have an economy. That is not the way it is now. People think you can build roads and bridges and not have to pay for them.”
Tester hopes the bipartisanship shown this month continues and the moves were not temporary, but a sign of things to come from Congress. He noted he has spoken to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., about how the two sides can work together on key areas where they agree things need to be done.
Tester also briefly touched on energy development in U.S. and a proposed trade deal with Pacific nations. He said Montana was “blessed” with conventional energy sources as well as plenty of opportunity for renewable energy development. He said he understands the perspectives of both producers and consumers of energy, but that low fuel costs are the best way to grow the rest of the economy.
In that same vein, he noted it was important that any trade deal makes sure not to give away American jobs.
“Trade is a good thing for the most part,” he said. “What you don’t want to have is something that encourages our companies to outsource those jobs. NAFTA comes to mind.
We have not fared very well. We need to make sure we get the right deal that’s fair for America’s working families.”
Tester also applauded the works of the Montana state legislature, including the passing of a bill to limit “dark money” in politics and prevent bullying in schools.