With another government shutdown vote looming, Montana’s congressional delegation appears, again, divided.
The U.S. Senate is poised to vote late Friday morning on a two-year budget deal, which would keep the government running, boost military spending and commit billions of dollars to infrastructure and health care issues ranging from opioid addiction to community medical centers.
But word that the deal would add more than $300 billion over 10 years to the federal deficit was giving Montana’s Republican lawmakers heartburn. The deal also required a vote to raise the debt ceiling.
“Washington, D.C., is addicted to spending. Washington, D.C., is addicted to debt. This budget proposal takes a giant step backwards," said Sen. Steve Daines, addressing the Senate. "Instead of shrinking government, it grows government by 13 percent. In fact, it is the largest spending increase since 2009, the first year President Obama was in office.”
Montana’s only congressman, Republican Greg Gianforte, told listeners of the conservative talk radio show “Voices of Montana” that voting for another $300 billion in unpaid government spending was the wrong move.
Gianforte had voted in favor of a House bill earlier this week to keep the government open Wednesday and increase military spending. That bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate on Thursday, where it was deemed too austere. Senators began immediately amending spending increases into the bill in order to sweeten the pot for reluctant colleagues.
The Senate planned to pass the amended bill and send it back to the House for a vote in Friday's early hours. The timing meant the federal government could shut down for a few hours after running out of money at midnight.
“I heard very clearly from the people of Montana that we need to draw a line to protect the fiscal integrity of our government,” Gianforte said. “We’re close to $20 trillion in debt, and there’s a bunch of drunken sailors back here. And as a business guy, I know the only way you can balance a budget is to stop spending more."
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has expressed optimism the budget deal would pass, primarily because of funding for community health centers, including 17 in Montana. That money, $7 billion for community health centers nationwide, would offer certainty to health centers uneasy about long-term planning without a federal funding commitment.
Chatted with @cnn's @ChrisCuomo this morning about the bipartisan budget deal we're voting on today. Very glad we FINALLY have a long-term plan to fund the government, reauthorize community health center funding, rebuild our infrastructure & invest in the VA. #mtpol pic.twitter.com/QfD258M6Q2— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) February 8, 2018
Tester's staff indicated he would be voting for the budget deal.
“This budget is the product of compromise. Those of us who are supporting this agreement are putting politics aside to make critical investments in rural health care clinics, strengthen our military, and deliver for our veterans," Tester said in an emailed response. "If folks were serious about reducing the debt, they would have opposed the partisan tax bill that saddled our kids and grandkids with $2.2 trillion of additional debt.”
Tester voted against the tax cuts bill passed by Congress in December. He said it benefited the rich at the expense of Montana families and eliminated future funding for government services. Daines and Gianforte supported the tax cuts, arguing that new economic growth would eventually replace revenue lost through the tax bill.
There were several Montana interests covered in the budget bill.
The budget proposal means $600 million for Montana Community Health Centers over two years.
The Children's Health Insurance Program receives 10 years of dedicated funding.
The coal production tax credit, which the Crow Tribe has called crucial for keeping Absaloka Mine coal economical, is extended for one year.
The Medicare Prescription Drug coverage gap known as the "Donut Hole" is closed, preventing coverage losses for 5,000 Montana seniors.
Montana’s delegation started the week with a joint press conference on the Capitol steps, in which they called on Congressional leadership to extend the Community Health Center Fund, which pays for 70 percent of community health center operations nationwide.
Health center funding was one of many fiscal casualties tied to Congress’ failure to pass a budget by Sept. 30. Since then, federal government programs have been on life support, funded only weeks at a time through short-term continuing resolutions.
As Republicans objected to the budget deal’s price tag, Democrats in the House opposed the deal for doing nothing for “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, who face deportation without congressional action.