MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, wrapping up his second year in office, said Wednesday that an economic stimulus package that focuses on infrastructure projects is a top priority for him when Congress convenes in 2009. Tester, the only Democrat who voted against both the Wall Street and automobile manufacturer rescue plans, said that he still thinks there is a good way to get help to car companies. But Tester said that among the biggest priorities should be job creation, through federal funding for infrastructure projects. In Montana, that would cover such projects as rural water delivery, highways and bridges, he said. Tester said a long list of worthy projects already exists. Federal funding for them would not only create jobs; it would also help spur the economy with better infrastructure, he said. "It's not employment for the sake of employment much of our infrastructure is plain wore out," Tester said. So far he has opposed the biggest measures Congress discussed for dealing with the recession and its effects. Tester said he voted against the congressionally supported Wall Street package partly because he "couldn't find anyone who could tell me how it would work." The senator, who usually drives General Motors pickup trucks and has a barn full of classic old American cars, opposed the failed car-maker bailout because he didn't believe the manufacturers had a long-term plan for success. Tester, however, said the money from the Wall Street bailout should be spent to help Detroit before Congress authorizes more spending. The Bush administration is considering such an idea. Tester said it will be more imporTant for Congress to pass a smart stimulus package, spark the entire economy and make sure that billions in federal money is allocated to needed projects packing accountability. "That is going to take some work to make sure that gets done," Tester said. The grain farmer from Big Sandy said he does worry about the ballooning federal deficit, but believes that investing in infrastructure will pay off in the long run. Other points Tester highlighted as he heads into his third year in Congress are: He finds the universal health-care plan advanced by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a good start on the health-care debate. But Tester said universal health care will be a tough sell. He said he looks forward to focused measures that include expanding health care for children. Tester, who said he is having a harder time selling his own organic grain, said farmers could need some help as the floor for commodity prices falls. He hopes to encourage the development of projects in Montana that help farmers, projects such as milling grain or butchering meat. He said an energy bill that promises independence from oil produced in the Middle East is necessary for the economic health of the United States. Tester, who ran on a platform of bringing an end to the war in Iraq, said the ongoing battle there has been "particularly frustrating." The senator says he expects the U.S. presence in Iraq to drop significantly in the first two years of the Obama administration.