Tester gives Senate update

Havre Daily News

by Tim leeds

Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said during a telephone press conference Wednesday that he expects some action to take place in the next few weeks, but much major work may be delayed until November or later.

“’Tis the season, with the elections looming,” he said. “Most people want to go home.

“I do too, but I come home every weekend,” Tester added.

Tester also complimented Bob Abbey, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, for accepting an invitation to come to Malta tonight and listen to concerns about a federal monument proposed in Phillips and Valley counties.

“I am happy Mr. Abbey is going to get comments up there,” Tester said.

Abbey will discuss concerns about monument creation during a meeting at the Malta High School gymnasium starting at 7 p.m. tonight.

Creating a nearly 3-million acre monument to preserve prairie habitat is mentioned in 21-page internal Department of the Interior memo leaked in February. Many Montanans have cried foul, saying they have been left out of the process and that they fear a monument will be created, possibly causing problems for the private property owners within and near the boundaries of the monument.

Tester said he has heard from Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, that no monument designation would come without significant public support and comment. Salazar also said nothing is in the works to create such a monument in the near future.

“Rumors that were out there were rumors,” Tester said during the press conference, “I don’t mean you should take them lightly, but they are rumors.”

A concern by landowners in the region is that they will be pushed out to create a massive bison range. Creation of such a range is mentioned in the paragraph talking about the potential monument.

Tester said losing ranches and farms in the region to the creation of such a monument would be devastating to the region’s economy.

“I have concerns too,” he said.

Tester said he expects to see a resolution in the Senate to continue funding under last year’s budget, delaying a final appropriations and budget bill until at least after the Nov. 2 general election if not into next year.

He said he expects the Senate to debate some major issues in the next few weeks, including defense appropriations and looking at taxes.

“I think we will be looking at the tax code in some form or another, whether it be the middle class or people making $250,000,” Tester said.

Tax cuts passed under the administration of President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2002 are set to expire this year. An intense debate is looming on whether to extend the cuts, and whether the cuts should be extended for all or just for the middle and lower class income earners.

President Barack Obama has proposed letting tax cuts for wealthier Americans expire, but making them permanent for individuals earning less than $200,000 or married couples earning less than $250,000.

The Republicans in Congress are unified in pushing for an extension of all tax cuts.

Some Democrats in the House are leery of increasing tax cuts during an election year in a recession, and are pushing for an extension of all of the cuts.

Tester also applauded bringing a bill on small businesses to the Senate for discussion.

Tuesday two Republican senators, George Voinovich of Ohio and George LeMieux of Florida, joined Democrats in a 61-37 vote to break a filibuster and bring the bill to the floor for consideration.

The House passed the bill, proposed by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., June 17 on a 241-182 vote.

Tester said the bill, which includes tax breaks for businesses and creates a fund to help banks provide loans to small businesses, would help stimulate the economy.

“It’s all about jobs and job creation,” he said. “It’s good for Montana, and it’s good for the entire country.”

Part of the bill would use a $30 billion fund to help community banks with assets of less than $10 billion make loans to small businesses. It also provides $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses, including in capital investments and depreciation and capital gains exemptions for investments in some businesses.

Part of the way the bill would be paid for is by allowing taxpayers to convert some retirement plans with tax-free contributions to Roth accounts, in which the taxpayer pays taxes up front on all contributions but can withdraw them tax-free upon retirement.

That would generate an estimated $5.1 billion over the next two years.

Tester said work still is proceeding on a bill he proposed to increase timber harvesting, conservation and recreation in Western Montana. He said proposed harvesting of 100,000 acres of timber is back in the bill, after it had been removed by a Senate committee.

“When it came out, it didn’t have the logging mandate in it, and I said that wouldn’t happen, not while I am carrying the bill,” Tester said.

He worked with representatives of the timber industry, recreation groups and conservation groups to put the bill together.

“This was put together by folks who usually don’t get along together too well, but they put together a bill that works,” Tester said.