Tester backs legislation to help boost employment

The Billings Gazette

by Jan Falstad

With one out of every 10 working American jobless, Congress is likely to pass several small bills to encourage businesses to hire more workers.

That was one of a range of topics Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., discussed during a Wednesday meeting with The Gazette editorial board.

“The economy expanding at 6 percent is a positive thing,” he said. “The federal government isn’t going to be the end-all to that, but we still need to look for opportunities.”

There is a limited amount of money to offer small businesses tax credits to hire workers, Tester said, and the legislation should be carefully worded.

“We should get a bang for the credit,” he said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law a year ago, and about 45 percent of the $787 billion in stimulus money has been spent.

Tester said the money has helped keep some Montana teachers employed and has helped start some highway projects. The Montana Alberta Tie Line, a $215 million power transmission line, would not be progressing without stimulus dollars because the private investors walked out on the project, Tester said.

“What the recovery act did was take a really, really, really big boat and help turn it around,” he said.

More regulation is needed for the U.S. banks that helped create the financial meltdown, he said. However, Congress is unlikely to reinstate the Great Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that prohibited commercial banks from engaging in financial speculation such as products like derivatives.

The Republican minority is demanding a supermajority vote (at least 60 votes) in the Senate to pass almost all legislation, he said. The loss of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to the Republicans,and threats of a filibuster have made conducting business increasingly difficult.

When asked why his party’s leadership doesn’t make the minority members talk for hours or days the way filibusters used to be conducted, Tester said he didn’t know.

“Maybe they’re afraid it will spiral and get worse. It can’t get much worse,” he said, referring to partisanship on Capital Hill.

While supporting a bill to protect consumer rights, Tester said he opposes establishing a separate agency.

Finally, Tester rejected calls by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., to insert “triggers” into Tester’s forest bill. That would create too many new issues, he said, and a key committee chairman told him a bill containing triggers would be a dead bill.

Tester said he’s going to continue to try to reach a consensus to manage some forestlands in Western Montana for both wilderness and logging.

“You look at the forest and it’s red and dead. There’s a million acres between Helena and Butte alone that’s dead,” Tester said.

Finally, Tester predicted progress on health care, an energy bill and on a climate-change legislation, but he didn’t predict when.