Sen. Tester: I’ll work with Trump, when possible – but not to cut entitlement programs

by MTN News, Mike Dennison

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, facing a re-election battle this year, says he’ll work with President Trump whenever he can on issues to advance the nation and Montana – but not if it means cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Tester told MTN News he suspects that Republican leadership in Congress will propose cutting these and other programs to offset deficit spending created by the GOP tax-cut bill.

“The speaker of the House has already said they’re going to do entitlement reform – that’s code for, `We’re going to cut these programs,'” Tester said. “And they’re going to do it to pay for the tax bill.”

Tester said the elderly depend on these programs, and “they’re way too important to cut.”

In a wide-ranging interview last week in Kalispell, Tester outlined his legislative priorities for the year, including renewal of the Farm Bill, passage of a bill to ease regulations on community banks, and replacing the “choice” program that’s supposed to make it easier for veterans to get government-funded health care.

The two-term Democrat also reiterated why he voted against the GOP tax-cut bill last month, saying it greatly increases the deficit – “It’s paid for by our kids” – and is not focused on cuts for the middle class.

Tops on Tester’s agenda are a mix of bills to help small banks, protect wild areas and improve veterans’ health care. They include:

A bipartisan bill to replace the “choice” program, which was designed to allow military veterans to use private health-care providers instead of the Veterans Administration health system.
Tester said the program hasn’t worked very well, and that the replacement is supposed to reduce red tape delaying care for veterans and provide 1,500 new residency slots for physicians who would offer care to veterans.

A measure to block a proposed gold mine on the north edge of Yellowstone National Park.
The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which protects 79,000 acres of wilderness in western Montana and opens up some areas to motorized recreation.
A bill to ease regulations for community banks, which Tester said have been struggling with the costs of new regulations imposed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
“Access to capital in rural America is critically important,” he said. “The big guys aren’t going to serve us. There’s no way, if we lose those community banks, that they’ll be replaced by the big Wall Street banks. …

“These guys have served rural America for a long, long time, and they’ve been put under a lot of pressure.”

Tester said he doesn’t see a big problem in renewing the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in September, because it shouldn’t face any significant changes. The bill includes ag supports and food stamps. However, he said, “you never know about Congress,” and urged Montanans who care about it to write Congress and others in power, pushing for its quick renewal.

On a major infrastructure-funding bill, which Trump has said he’ll propose, Tester said he’s concerned about Republican plans to finance it with “public-private partnerships,” such as toll roads.

He said toll roads wouldn’t work in Montana, and that any infrastructure bill needs significant public investment – and that he’s not sure the money will be there, given that Republicans just dramatically cut taxes.

“This country needs infrastructure improvements in a big, big way if we’re going to compete in the 21st Century,” Tester said. “It needs to be paid for.”

When asked whether President Trump is doing a good job, Tester said mid-term is probably not the best time to evaluate a president’s impact, and that “history will prove whether he’s done a good job or a bad job.”

However, he did say he wishes Trump would work more often toward bipartisan solutions and “just put the cell phone away and quit tweeting.”

“Doing foreign policy via tweet is not the direction we need to be going here,” Tester said. “It’s very concerning to me. Some really bad things could happen.”