MISSOULA — US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) talked with Mike Powers and discussed a wide range of topics.
MIKE POWERS: “We are pleased to be joined by the senior Senator for Montana Jon Tester. Thank you for joining us. We have a lot to talk about, including the American Rescue Plan. No Republicans voted for it, saying it was too costly. Why did you support it?”
SEN JON TESTER: “We're not through with the pandemic yet, unfortunately. We look forward to the time we are. We need to get vaccines out to the state, whether it's the public or private sector, to teachers, veterans, whatever, to make sure we can get as many people vaccinated as possible -- in fact, everyone vaccinated. So, that's number one. Number two, a lot of people have been impacted in business, especially the hospitality industry, so we need to make sure they can stay alive. Making sure governments can continue to operate, supporting police departments, fire, water, picking up the garbage. Making sure the schools can stay open, and finally, making sure our rural hospitals have what they need.”
POWERS: “Republicans have criticized the bill as being focused on blue states, Democratic states. Can you say this bill helps out rural states, particularly the ag industry?”
SEN. TESTER: “It helps Montana in a big, big way, and I can tell you there have been a lot of dollars in the last year go out to the Ag industry, where 40% of the farmers income last year came from the federal government. That aside, where this really helps stave off property tax increases which is very, very important to our farming community.”
POWERS: “You are the chair of the Senate Veterans Committee; will this bill help veterans?”
SEN TESTER: “There's no doubt about it. There's a big portion in here for our veterans. To make sure there are vaccines, make sure there is housing, make sure there is retraining for jobs and education. To make sure copays aren't a problem for the bills that have piled up over the pandemic. There's incredible relief for our veterans. And I might add this -- the Veterans Administration in Montana has done a wonderful job get vaccines in the arms of veterans and it's incredibly important to keep getting those vaccines.”
POWERS: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary. Republicans say she is too radical. Why do you think she's a good choice?
SEN. TESTER: “She's committed to making sure our public lands are protected and used in common sense ways, to make sure people have access to public lands. She's very, very committed to upgrading water infrastructure in rural American, which I think is very, very important. She knows tribal issues probably better than any secretary we've had before so I didn't have to educate her on that at all. But most importantly she wants to lead to more high-paying jobs. Mike, like most secretaries, I don't see eye to eye with everything they say, but the bottom line with Secretary Haaland is that Deb Haaland is fit for the job, up for the task and she will do a good job.”
POWERS: “It has been talked about for years, an infrastructure bill, but I don't know if Congress has the stomach for it. Are we going anywhere with that?”
SEN TESTER: “There has already been conversations about that and if there was the pandemic, for sure. We need better broadband, there's too many unserved areas in Montana and underserved areas. We need to provide better healthcare and distance learning. And build our economy. And as we've seen rural America dry up in the last 50, 60 years, I think broadband is the key to bringing people back to rural America. If you've got good broadband, you can literally do business around the world. So, any infrastructure bill is going to have that, and of course, sewer, and highways, and other things if we want to think outside the box. Let me give you an example: many of our schools are in dire need of improvement. The same thing with our courthouses. And the list goes on and on. Our rail system. Our airline system, it's very important. So, there is going to be a healthy debate to decide what needs to be in an infrastructure bill very, very soon.”