Hoping for sense in Congress

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Jon Tester

Congress has an important decision to make this week: Either work together to responsibly cut spending and keep our government working, or refuse and let our government shut down.

Across our state and across the country, we are seeing politicians draw lines in the sand. They’re refusing to negotiate a credible, long-term plan that will really balance our budget and get our arms around the debt.

Ten years ago, this nation enjoyed a $128 billion budget surplus. But in one year, in 2001, Congress squandered it all away Now . after years of reckless spending and racking up record debt with zero transparency, some members of our U.S. House of Representatives are desperately trying to convince Montanans that they’ve suddenly found fiscal religion. And they want us to believe that this country’s spending problem will go away simply by passing symbolic resolutions and gimmicks.  

Now, in an attempt to erase the record, some representatives are making historically irresponsible decisions.

After 10 years of ignoring our broken health care system, the House passed a measure that will shut down community health centers in Montana. After passing a measure that strips Pell Grants from hardworking Montana students, the House last week voted to spend $300 million in taxpayer dollars on Washington, D.C. charter schools. The House passed a measure to take away basic   health care for women.

The House even passed a measure that will take away Medicare benefits for 26,000 Montana seniors. This shortsighted plan doesn’t even save taxpayers money. In fact, it will raise our debt by $5.7 billion.

No wonder the Montanans I hear   from are furious.

Montanans know that truly fixing our debt won’t happen until we make Social Security and Medicare strong for the future. It won’t happen until we reform our tax code.

Getting the upper hand on our debt and spending won’t happen overnight. And it certainly won’t happen by gutting the very things that create Montana jobs. It will happen by going after government services that are no longer needed and programs that waste money.

Working together with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, we have already cut billions from the budget.

Of course, we have more to do. And I’m already working on solutions:

With one bill last year, I cut $6 billion from the federal budget by getting rid of an outdated “bonus” in unemployment checks.

I’m pushing a bill to get rid of   automatic pay raises for members of Congress, and another to get rid of unemployment insurance for millionaires, and another to rescind unused earmarks from years past.

After I voted against both bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry, I pushed my bill into law requiring bailout money to be paid back, and used to pay down the federal debt.

I’m part of a bipartisan group of senators working on a credible, longterm solution to address debt and spending.

I am calling for a commission to see what overseas military bases we can afford to close.

I’m pushing for a 5 percent cut in the budget of the entire legislative branch of government — including my own office budget.  

And the Senate already passed my bill eliminating pay for all members of Congress should the government shutdown.

Let’s hope common sense prevails, and Congress works together, so we can avoid a shutdown altogether.

For us, a shutdown means delayed Social Security and Medicare and veterans’ benefit checks. For the members of Congress who refuse to work together, a shutdown means they failed to do the job they were hired to do.

Montanans deserve better. They deserve responsible, thoughtful decisions in Congress.

Sen. Jon Tester represents Montana in the U.S. Senate.