Tester defends needed earmarks

Montana Standard

by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

Coming home every weekend and traveling to all of Montana's 56 counties allows me to listen to folks, visit small businesses and understand the rural communities we call home.

Unlike some Washington bureaucrat who sits in a cubicle all day, I know Montana. I know some parts of our state don't even have clean drinking water. I drive thousands of miles of highways that need to be maintained in order to keep our businesses and communities strong.

Right now, one third of 1 percent of our federal budget is earmarked for specific water systems and highways in rural America, where there aren't enough taxpayers to foot the bill.

That same small part of our budget also helps fund economic development across Montana, and helps firms like FLIR Systems in Bozeman grow in Montana. In three years, FLIR has doubled its workforce in Montana largely because of military research and development earmarks.

As a senator who knows Montana inside and out, I have the authority-and the responsibility-to make sure our rural state has the resources we need through these appropriations.

One of my first orders of business in the Senate was to bring transparency and public scrutiny to this process, changing it dramatically.

Members of Congress must now put their names by their earmarks in order for them to be funded. And all of the appropriations any member of Congress requests have to be made public. None of this was true before I was elected.

I support this transparent process because without input from people who know exactly what Montana needs, the Obama Administration will make all the decisions about where to spend your taxpayer dollars.

For federal resources, a project like the new Shiloh Road in Billings would have a tough time competing with the potholes that need to be filled on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Some of my colleagues in Congress have sworn off appropriations temporarily, telling voters their ban saves money and will help reduce the deficit. Unless you actually cut the budget, that's not the case. It will simply shift more funds to unelected bureaucrats to slice up the pie for us.

I'm focusing on real ways to cut spending-like the $6 billion I personally cut from the federal unemployment insurance law this summer.

I voted twice against my own pay raise and will continue to do so. I support freezing the salaries of federal employees. I was the only member of my party to vote against both bailouts of Wall Street and the U.S. auto industry.

Just this week, the bipartisan Debt Commission released a number of recommendations for cutting our national debt. Even though I may not support every idea the commission put forward, I do support their "package deal" approach to making the tough choices we need to make, including reforming our tax code and entitlement programs.

One of the commission's suggestions is to cut the one-third-of-one-percent of our budget dedicated to congressionally directed appropriations. If that proposed cut remains part of a larger package deal that comes before the Senate, I will consider it.

Because a real commitment to cutting our debt, cutting spending and creating jobs means putting all options on the table-not just political stunts.

We ought to look at money we send overseas. We ought to look at the billions we're shelling out to private war contractors-who earn more than our own troops-with no accountability.

We ought to look at why we entered two wars in the past decade without paying for them.

And we ought to take a hard look at all the bipartisan ideas put forth by the various commissions examining real ways to address our deficit, spending cuts, changes to entitlement programs and tax reform. And I will.

But simply banning smart, transparent appropriations will cost Montana jobs. It will hurt Montana's water systems and highways. It will give all decisions about our federal funding to the Obama Administration. And it won't save us any money. That's not good government, and it's not good for Montana.

– U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is in his first term of Congress. He has announced his intention to run again.