HELENA – Reauthorization of the Farm Bill and a conservation fund, protecting Yellowstone National Park and recognizing the Little Shell Indian Tribe are among the Montana delegation’s goals for the final weeks of the 2018 Congress.
How much of this agenda gets through remains to be seen, however, as Congress also battles over funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall.
“We’re fully aware of what needs to be done and I think we can do it,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told MTN News this week. “It’s just a matter of rolling up the sleeves and compromise and negotiations, and working in a bipartisan way.”
Congress agreed Thursday to finance the government for another two weeks and negotiate over border-security funding.
Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte have been supportive of the border wall; Tester is skeptical, saying it’s probably not the best use of taxpayer money for border security.
Meanwhile, a host of other appropriations bills are in the pipeline, including ones that contain money that Montana’s delegation is pushing for.
Tester, Daines and Gianforte are all behind reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and passage, a bill to prohibit mining claims near the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, and funds for park maintenance.
They’ve also pushed for federal recognition of the Little Shell Indian Tribe.
Gianforte and Daines also have lobbied for passage of bills to streamline logging and other timber projects in national forests, although those remain more controversial.
Tester said he doubts forest-management bills that have controversial elements will make it through Congress in the closing weeks. If bills aren’t passed by year’s end, they must be reintroduced when the next Congress convenes in January.
Tester also is pushing for a bill that would provide medical help for “blue water Vietnam veterans,” who are naval veterans who didn’t set foot on shore but were affected by the toxic Agent Orange.
“It’s a good bill for our veterans and it’s the right thing for our country to be doing,” he said.
Daines also has written a letter to House and Senate leadership asking to extend or modify several tax provisions and credits, such as an Indian coal-production credit and changes that allow deductions for conservation easements.
And, Gianforte has highlighted several provisions of the Farm Bill important for Montana, such as protection for domestic sugar-beet producers and support for the Agricultural Research Service.
On the U.S.-Mexico border wall, President Trump wants $5 billion to build it.
Democratic leaders in Congress are opposed and say current border-security funding should be extended into next year, when the issue can be discussed further.
Tester said $5 billion “is a lot of money” and that he thinks border security could be improved in other ways than building a permanent wall on the border.
“The wall may look good to some people, but the truth is, it’s a wall,” he told MTN News. “As the threat changes, it remains a wall. And you can go under that wall, you can go over that wall, (and) they’ve had some studies done where they have chemicals that can dissolve a concrete wall. We need to be smart about this. …
“A wall from sea to shining sea treats the taxpayers like an ATM.”