Sidney Herald: Tester talks about Amtrack, COVID relief in recent media call across Montana

by Renee Jean

The recent COVID-19 relief packages that failed are a prime example of an important element in making major legislation that has been missing of late, Sen. Jon Tester said last week on a call with media reporters.

Tester was responding to a question asking what can reduce partisan divisions, so that essential legislation can get done.

“I can give you the same old line that we need different leadership in the Senate, and we do,” Tester said. “I do think that leadership needs to turn over. It is important to get different leadership styles in there, because one may work better than another.”

But a big key to reducing partisanship, Tester said, is being able to use the committee process to hear from all sides on bills and adjust them to be more suitable.

“That process allows politicians to comment on the good, bad, and the ugly of these bills we vote on,” Tester said. “And if you up it through the committee process, you do a little changing and amending and you are able to get a good piece of legislation to the floor to help unite Congress, not divide them.”

That process, Tester said, has been notably absent from recent COVID-19 packages. Those are being negotiated at a much higher level.

“That is not how the system is set up to work and work very well,” Tester said.

Recent COVID-19 proposals have all lacked funding Tester believes is imperative for his constituents, including more COVID relief funding for AMtrack.

“That is one of the reasons I voted against that skinny package,” Tester said. “(It) included zero funding for Amtrak for them to maintain the service.”

He also wants to see funding for testing and tracing, local governments, unemployment funding to support businesses and families, and money for schools are also items he’s looking for in the next COVID relief package.

“There was a $2.2 trillion package the house sent over,” Tester said. “I like it better than the previous package, which was a little pricier. I think that something like that could work.”

But the window is closing to get any of those things done before the election, Tester added.

“Putting folks lives on the line for the sake of petty politics doesn’t work for me,” Tester said. “And I will tell you the window is closing, but I’m going to continue to fight every day to ensure we get a package that works for businesses and for folks who are out of work, families who are out of work, and for local government units. I also want to make sure we have money for testing and for infrastructure and companies like Amtrak, and that other things are taken care of.”

On other topics, Tester said he has requested a meeting with Amy Coney Barrett to determine whether he can support her candidacy for the Supreme Court.

“What happens traditionally with all Supreme Court nominees is you get a chance to visit with them,” Tester said. “The only time that didn’t happen was with Kavanaugh and I think that was politics because of an election.”

However, this time, too, Tester said, his requests for a meeting have not yet been answered.

“I do want to visit with her, and then we will make a decision after that meeting takes place,” he added.

However, the window on that, too, is closing, with a vote set for Monday.

Tester said in the meantime, he’s focused on legislation for a budget extension to keep the government funded through the end of the next fiscal year. That has to be finished by Dec. 11.

He’s also working on legislation related to affordable housing and broadband for rural communities.

“Hopefully the upcoming election will be instructional,” Tester said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to vote on a meaningful (COVID-19) package in the lame duck session, which probably means mid-November.”