Tester answers questions from area residents during time in Sidney

by Sidney Herald, Bill Vander Weele

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was looking for assistance when he visited Sidney for a question-and-answer session on Saturday afternoon.

Tester mentioned a potential federal infrastructure bill that could help eastern Montana if communities’ needs become known to him.

“If we get an infrastructure bill, we have to be ready for it,” Tester told audience members. He said that if government units have suggestions where money needs to be utilized, leaders should contact his office. “It will be really important.”

Tester sits on the Senate’s Commerce Committee that will work on the framework of an infrastructure bill.

Representatives at the meeting included Richland County Commissioner Duane Mitchell, Sidney Mayor Rick Norby and Fairview Mayor Brian Bieber.

Mitchell asked if federal leaders have determined a definition of infrastructure.

Tester said the definition is yet to be made but could contain projects such as streets, bridges and broadband.

“When we develop plans and if it fits one of the boxes, that we will look at it,” the senator noted.

During the 45-minute visit, which was coordinated by the Sidney Kiwanis Club and Sidney Young Professionals, Tester answered questions that covered a wide variety of topics.

• Tester said there are proposals that could reduce the cost of premiums for health care. “There are bills to address that. Unfortunately, there’s no appetite to address that now.”

He said premiums go down when there are larger pools. Now, pools are getting smaller. Tester admitted that he doesn’t have the answer, but he feels senators need to talk about the issues. He urges people to ask their delegations to discuss the issues.

• When asked about the tax cut plan, Tester is disappointed that the tax breaks for the middle class are only temporary. He said the bill will add at least $1.4 trillion to the country’s $20 trillion debt.

“We have to find a way to make it work for the country,” Tester said.

• Tester says most of the comments he’s received are to not make many changes to the farm bill. “I don’t think it will be a real heavy lift,” Tester said of a farm bill being approved next fall.

• With a government shutdown possible later this week, Tester thinks a short-term Continuing Resolution isn’t the answer. “I feel we have put enough short-term patches in the budget,” he said.

• When asked, Tester said he feel his greatest accomplishment in the Senate was increasing reimbursement to veterans for health care travel. “There are a lot of veterans who aren’t rich people and some live a long ways from clinics.”

• Despite their disagreements, Tester said Democrats and Republicans still work together on successful bills. Tester said the problem is that they spend 90 percent of the time fighting over the 10 percent of the things they don’t agree on. He noted that during the last 12 months, he has been able to work with Republicans to send 10 bills to the president’s desk.

• Regarding President Trump’s hope for an immigration wall on the country’s southern border, Tester said there are some places where the wall would be effective. He feels about 700 miles of the 2,000 mile proposed would be beneficial.

“There are some spots where the wall works, and other spots where it’s a total waste of money,” Tester said.