Tester has high hopes for 2016 political year

by Ashleigh Fox

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has high hopes for the men and women working in Washington, D.C. this year, despite the fact it is an election year when partisan politics are likely to dominate the Capitol for the season.

In a conference call Thursday, Tester told reporters there is a “laundry list that’s facing Congress this year” of work that must be accomplished.

“We have to invest in our future,” Tester said. “Folks these days come out of college crippled by tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. That is unacceptable. Making education more affordable for all students will guarantee that Montana has a strong work force and is ready to innovate. We also need to make health care reform work better, to ensure that every Montanan has access to quality, affordable healthcare. And we must invest in infrastructure, not only roads and bridges, but broadband, incredibly important in the 21st Century. This will help connect Montana with the global economy. We have to destroy ISIS with the help of our allies, and end the threat they impose to the world, the United States included.”

Since the interview, Tester has been working toward those goals early into the 2016 political year.

Tester met with Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Beth Cobert in advance of her nomination hearing to become the permanent OPM Director. Tester asked Cobert about the status of the overdue 90-day review that was commissioned last year to strengthen the security clearance process.

“We must be able to say with full confidence that the folks receiving security clearances will keep our nation secure, and right now we can’t say that,” Tester said. “The results of this review will lay the groundwork for strengthening our seriously flawed background investigation process and help Congress reform the system to prevent potential insider threats.”

As a part of Tester’s goal to ensure a strong workforce and innovation in Montana, he urged administration to implement education reform properly.

Tester last year led a chorus of students, parents, and educators, who called for an end to the federal testing regime under what he said is the failed No Child Left Behind Act. The education reform bill that Congress enacted last year, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), allows states to set limits on the amount of time schools spend administering tests.

The Senator, who taught and served on the school board in Big Sandy, is now calling on the Education Department to assist states as they try to eliminate duplicative tests.

“Our education system relies too heavily on testing to the detriment of our students,” Tester wrote to Acting Secretary of Education John King. “We need to ensure testing does not distract from good instruction and that it takes up a limited amount of time.”

While ESSA did not include Tester’s bill to reduce federally mandated tests, it did provide additional flexibility to local districts to reduce the testing burden.

Tester also commented on the Keystone pipeline debate.

“I think we’ve had a ridiculous debate on this that both sides have blown out of proportion. We ought to build the doggone thing and have it done with,” Tester said. “I think it’s an opportunity to do some things for long-term energy security. All this goes without saying, the safety standards have to be respected and private property rights have to be respected but I think that there may be an opportunity here to build the thing, use that investment to research for alternate transportation fuels and both sides can win on this.

Tester weighed in on how to defeat ISIS, saying that Congress needs to pass an authorization of use of military force, so that the president has guidelines instead of just a blank check, which is what he has right now.

“We need a clear strategy on what we’re doing. Right now we’re bombing and folks want to put boots on the ground and I’m opposed to that for a couple reasons. One, I don’t think we can do this alone, we need to have help from our Middle Eastern partners and there’s plenty of them that are upset about ISIS…continue our targeted airstrikes and work to get more people involved in this,” Tester said.