Jon Tester: Health, veterans, public access on Congress' to-do list

by JON TESTER, Billings Gazette

Montanans sent me to Washington to work hard, hold government accountable, and fight for responsible policies that create high-paying jobs and strengthen our way of life. So when plans were announced to shorten the traditional August recess to pass more legislation, I started jotting down a to-do list with all the things that Congress must tackle right now.

Instead of passing a secretly written, irresponsible health care bill that raises premiums, imposes an age tax on folks in their 50s and 60s, and kicks children and seniors off health insurance, I’ve offered a few solutions that will help drive down the cost of health care.

I’ve got a bill that will force pharmaceutical companies to publicly disclose when and why they are raising the costs of life-saving drugs, knowing this accountability will help lower prices. I have another bill that will ensure the Department of Health and Human Services makes their payments on time to keep out-of-pocket costs from spiking. And I’m pushing a bill that will help lower costs for folks who are stuck in the middle and paying way too high of premiums.

Congress must vote on these bills in the coming weeks.

But health care isn’t the only thing on the to-do list. Let’s get to work on powering our economy and passing a responsible budget that doesn’t saddle the next generation with heaping debt. Let’s get to work protecting our public lands, strengthening local control of our schools, and doing right by our nation’s troops and veterans.

As ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve proudly worked with Republicans, Democrats and Independents to pass several key bills that will improve the lives of our nation’s veterans. President Trump just signed my bills to improve the Veterans Choice Program and allow the VA to fire bad employees more quickly. Our Committee has been the most productive in Congress – holding the VA accountable, passing bills, and working with the president.

The rest of Congress could learn a thing or two from our kind of bipartisan, get-er-done work ethic as it drafts the nation’s budget.

On the farm, we live within our means, don’t spend more than we take in, and invest in the future of our operation. Washington needs to do the same, because we can’t afford a budget that saddles our kids with debt and turns off the lights in rural America.

Congress also needs to pass my Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Protection Act to increase public access to hiking, biking, and snowmobiling, and my Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act to ensure our nation’s first National Park will remain an economic driver for all of Montana.

Washington needs to stop dragging its feet on my legislation that will help recruit teachers to rural school districts with workforce shortages. As a former teacher, I know our kids deserve the very best education and this bill will help deliver.

I could go on about the need to invest in our roads and bridges, cut taxes and red tape for small businesses, and ensure education is affordable and accessible for all. But Montanans are tired of politicians in Congress who talk the talk. They have to walk the walk and get to work. That’s how we do it in Montana.