U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is not supporting the GOP’s latest bill to keep the government open for a few more weeks, despite Republican efforts to blame Trump-state Democrats for a potential shutdown.
In a phone call with Montana reporters Thursday, Tester, a Democrat, noted it had been 110 days since the federal fiscal year started and that lawmakers needed to quit “kicking the can down the road” and authorize long-term spending. Short-term funding bills, of which there have already been two, have crippled regular government business.
“The short-term, take-it-or-leave-it budget before Congress right now is a disgrace. It’s a slap in the face to every Montanan who works hard and deserves certainty for their leaders,” Tester said. “It is a failure of leadership, and I’m here to say no more. Not on my watch.”
Tester said lawmakers should remain at work until a long-term budget — one that keeps the government open through the end of the fiscal year in September — is passed.
It will take 60 votes to pass a short-term budget to keep the government open, and Republicans at best have 51. Democrats like Tester are being targeted by the GOP for votes.
“I don’t want to see a government shut down. I don’t think it would be good for the country. I’ve never been crazy about them,” Tester said. “By the same token, what we’re seeing here is a slow burn that is actually ending up as a government shutdown in de facto, where every month there’s so much uncertainty going on.”
The federal government will shut down this weekend if Congress fails to pass a funding bill by Friday night. Tester’s remarks came as Republican political groups attempted to pin the potential shutdown on 10 senators up for re-election this year in states where President Trump won. Montana voters favored Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points.
Politico reported the contents of an email from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which the Kentucky Republican laid out plans for pinning the shutdown on Democrats up for re-election, including Tester. The plan reported by the political website was to keep lawmakers in session beyond the Friday deadline and force them to vote against government spending bills, including money for the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which is on life support. The insurance program provides health care to low-income children.
Republicans have log-rolled a six-year renewal of CHIP funding into their short-term spending bill to win votes from Democrats who otherwise won’t support the bill. Many Democrats have objected to supporting short-term funding of the government unless Republicans address the matter of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Known as DACA, the bill prevents the deportation of illegal aliens brought to the United States as children.
Including CHIP in the short-term spending bill was to be a counterbalance to Democrats’ unmet DACA demands. Tester said DACA wasn’t the reason for his opposition.
Meanwhile, Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines took to Twitter to condemn lawmakers who would pass up a CHIP vote to hold out for DACA.
“24,000 Montana children’s access to healthcare is on the line today,” Daines tweeted. “I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and to support a six-year reauthorization of #CHIP and keep government open.”
Asked about whether Democrats deserved blame if the government shut down, Daines said they would, but didn’t name Tester specifically. He reiterated the importance of long-term CHIP funding, which Democrats have been demanding a vote on for several months.
“Every senator has to make decisions on what’s important to the people who elect them to serve,” Daines said. “Each senator will have to make his or her own decision on that vote.”