Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a telephone press conference Thursday that, whatever the results of the November elections, the crucial matter is that the results break the deadlock Washington has seen for the last four years, especially to get control of the federal deficit and the debt.
“If we get people back here who are willing to work together, work across the aisle, then I think we can get some good things done, and that’s really what’s important about this election, ” he said.
Tester also said that he believes a lot will happen after the election, when the lame-duck Congress takes up issues, especially budget issues and trying to avoid the mandated cuts required by sequestration implemented after the so-called Supercommittee was unable to agree on a plan in 2011.
“What really needs to be done … is we really need to come together, ” he said. “I think the lame-duck is an opportunity to do that, really come together and develop a broad bipartisan plan that really is going to cut spending and cut the debt.
“And, I hope we can work that before sequestration happens, ” he added. “I think it would be better if we do that. ”
Tester is opposed by Rep. Denny Rehberg in the Nov. 6 general election.
Tester said he has struggled with the gridlock in Congress. When he was a Montana state senator, he said, the Legislature had its political battles, but in the last half of the session lawmakers would do some give and take and compromise, he said.
“We all didn’t get what we wanted, but we got a little bit of what we wanted, and we came up with a conclusion, ” Tester said.
He said he has been able to do some of that in Washington — right now he is working with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on a bill that would keep government operating at current funding levels for 120 days if funding bills are not passed in time — but, he added, more bipartisan work needs to be happening.
He said the government shutdown bill and other bipartisan bills on which he worked were important issues, “but they’re not like the deficit and debt.
“On the big issues, where these are really tough decisions and can hang you out politically, there are going to be decisions made there that I guarantee (everyone is) going to go, ‘I don’t like that. That’s going to hurt me here. ’ But the whole goal is that you do something broad-based and even-handed, where it’s fair.
“If you do not have bipartisan support to do something like that, it never gets done, ” he said.
He said issues like the sequestration cuts can be done without eliminating crucial services, such as the intercontinental ballistic missile system in the United States or the Montana Air National Guard flying mission.
Savings could be found and money freed up, he said, using the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down as an example.
“If that money is there, they’re going to spend it, ” Tester said. “If they’re given a charge to be lean and mean and more effective, I think they will step up to the plate, as with other areas of the budget, as with Social Security, Medicare, as with discretionary funding that goes into things like education, and the list goes on and on. ”
He added that he doesn’t think sequestration is the solution.
“I think it would be much better if we got together and developed a long-term plan to cut the fat where it is fat and let the ones that are currently lean and mean — because there are some that are — to continue the work that they’re doing, ” Tester said.
And he reiterated his belief that after the election that will happen.
“I think, after the election, when the election is over, and I sure hope this is the case, we can put politics to bed for a while and then do the right thing and make cuts we have to make and to do what we need to do to …, ” he said. “Put the budget in a situation where we get the deficit and debt under control in the short, and over the long, haul. ”