Tester on Russia, health care and climate change

by NBC Montana

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) recently participated in a Q&A with NBC Montana to discuss his thoughts on Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, health care and U.S. Rep.-elect Gianforte.

NBC Montana: Missing the “Super Bowl of politics.” What do you make of the hearing today and what we already learned from Mr. Comey’s written testimony? How does it impact Montanans?

Sen. Tester: I think it’s incredibly important we get to the bottom of it. If we don’t have faith in our election systems as Montanans, we’re going to see even less people vote than as before. This is a foreign country that has not exactly been a good actor the entire time I’ve been alive, and so we need to hold them accountable if problems have happened and they did meddle. We also need to hold accountable anyone who helped them meddle in this country.

Now, as far as former Director Comey’s testimony, I think it’s a very, very good thing. I’m happy to see it happen. I think it will shed some transparency on his perspective on what went down as far as the Russia investigation as it applies to the FBI. But I think it’s a piece of the puzzle. I think there are many more pieces to the puzzle, that hopefully, either through the investigation of the committees in the Senate or through the special prosecutor, that will get to the bottom of what really happened and hold people accountable and make sure it never happens again to our elections.

NBC Montana: You’ve criticized the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Can you explain your criticism?

Sen. Tester: Well look, I don’t think it’s really good to be with two countries — Nicaragua and Syria. The rest of the world is together on this. I think we’ve got an incredible opportunity to create jobs and lead the world in clean technology, whether that’s burning coal cleaner, or solar, or geothermal, or wind power, or whatever else might be out there. I think it’s a prime example of the President burying his head in the sand when it comes to climate conditions.

I just talked to the new nominee for FEMA today. FEMA’s getting hammered because we have climate events every — almost every day that border upon catastrophe. So this is impacting the taxpayers, and it’s impacting the world, and we need to be a leader in the effort, not sitting back with Syria and watching the world pass us by.

There’s some things that help dampen the concern for climate change, and that is we have a safety net called crop insurance that falls under that. That helps dampen some of the concerns. But, in the end, every year, something happens that’s a little bit more weird. This year, for example, my farm in north-central Montana, we didn’t get any rain in May, one of our wettest months, if not our wettest month of the year. That’s crazy weather patterns.

Last winter, for example, it was colder in Washington, D.C., than it was in north-central Montana, at least that’s what my skin felt, and I think that’s pretty crazy. So when it comes to climate, it’s going to affect every one of us and when you’re a farmer or rancher, clean air, clean water, extreme weather conditions can just raise heck with your operation.

So, if there isn’t big concern out there there needs to be because this is not going to go away on its own. Mother Nature, as all farmers know, will deal with the problem as Mother Nature does, and it may not be the kindest way to deal with it.

NBC Montana: How does the American Health Care Act CBO score influence your opinion of the new Republican health care bill? Do you expect it to pass?

Sen. Tester: I don’t know. It depends on what pressure Sen. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, puts on the Republican caucus. I can tell you that the American Health Care Act that was passed by the House a month or so ago is a disaster. It takes us back to the old system that’s going to kick off millions and millions of people, 23-24 million people, off of health care. It’s going to increase costs for elderly people. It’s just not a good bill at all.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the Senate doing much better, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not being done with participation from the people on both sides of the aisle, and I know that claim was made with the ACA but it wasn’t true. There were a lot of Republicans that added input to that bill as it moved forward. On this one, it’s done behind closed doors. I don’t know that there’s many people in the Senate that know what to expect when it comes out.

But, I will tell you this, Will, people like the fact that people with pre-existing conditions can get health care. Pre-existing conditions, for example, like high blood pressure, heart disease, those kinds of things. People like the fact that if you get sick and you run up against a lifetime cap, say you get cancer, you go in for treatment, that lifetime cap is no longer there. They like that. People like the fact that there’s 70,000 more Montanans that have health insurance due to Medicaid expansion.

What people don’t like about the ACA is there’s people who don’t get subsidies that are paying too high of premiums, with too high of deductibles. We need to fix that and keep the rest. What I see coming out of the House Republicans, and is probably going to come out of the Senate Republicans, is throwing away all of the good of the ACA and not fixing what’s bad with the ACA. That’s a step in the wrong direction.

Health care is too big of a part of our economy, and it’s too big a part of working families’ daily lives to not do this so people can afford to get sick. There’s a lot of political talking points out there that sound really good, but the bottom line is the proof’s going to be in the pudding. Whatever they put forth better work for Montana and it better work for America or we haven’t done our job. I haven’t seen any signs yet that what’s going to come out, certainly what came out of the House won’t work for America, and I don’t have a lot of faith that what’s going to come out of the Senate will either. But I hope I’m wrong.

NBC Montana: A question about the CBO score is what prompted an attack on a reporter by Montana’s now U.S. Representative-elect. Have you spoken to Mr. Gianforte since his election victory? Do you expect the incident to impact his ability to be an effective representative, and do you anticipate working with Mr. Gianforte in the same way you’ve collaborated with past congressmen?

Sen. Tester: Look, I haven’t spoken to Greg Gianforte since the incident. I think it was very, very poor judgment. I think there will be opportunities to work with Representative-elect Gianforte. I think what he talked about in his acceptance speech — drain the swamp — I’ve got several bills that do exactly that, and I welcome him joining me on those bills to really trim back the lobbyists’ influence here in Washington, D.C. But, in the end, I think he made a very, very poor decision. You know, freedom of speech is important, and the fact that if you’re willing to body slam a reporter when they ask about health care, you’re going to have real problems back here, because you get asked questions all the time in the hallways that are far more uncomfortable than that one.

NBC Montana:Your recent trip across Montana — what was the goal? And what did you learn?

Sen. Tester: Yeah, I think, you know, we started in, basically in Sidney and Glendive and headed west. We did listening sessions on the farm bill, because it’s going to expire in August of this next year. We did listening sessions with VA in Billings and Missoula, trying to find out what veterans think about choice and how we — we’ve got a Choice fix bill coming up this summer, maybe early fall at the latest. What needs to be in that bill to make it work better to cut red tape for veterans and the providers. So the goal was to gather input from folks in agriculture on the listening sessions on the farm bill, and from the VA on the listening sessions, from veterans on the listening sessions on the VA. So they were very successful meetings we had, and, you know, we continue to get the best ideas from Montanans and bring them back here to Washington, D.C.