Tester hopes for health care reform this year


Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

Montana's junior Sen. Jon Tester said in a telephone press conference Thursday that, although there are no guarantees, he is hopeful that a Senate bill reforming health care will pass this year. “We may be here Christmas Day, but I think the bill's going to be done,” Tester said, adding, “But nothing's sure till we have 60 votes.” Congress is working on major legislation a landmark goal of the Obama administration to reform the health care industry, increasing health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and trying to rein in the increase of health care costs. The House of Representatives already has passed its version of a health care reform bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been trying to come up with a Senate version. The Democrats have tried to find a 60-senator majority supporting the bill to prevent a filibuster from killing it. Not all agree with Tester's assessment that the bill could be passed by Christmas. The Associated Press reports that Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, who voted in favor of passing a bill written by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., out of the Finance Committee which Baucus chairs, said The hope for a vote on the bill before Christmas was unrealistic. The back-and-forth play in the Senate, which has been pitting Democrats against Republicans and Democrat versus Democrat, has created major changes in the bill, including stripping out a provision for a government- administered public option for insurance and infighting on language in the bill about abortion. Tester said there are many things he would like to see in the bill a primary consideration for him is increasing competition to help reduce prices and improve service but the savings it is projected to provide is a good first step. Tester pointed out that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years, and $650 billion over the next 10. “That sounds good to me,” he said. He said the bill is a step in the right direction to fix a health-care system everyone agrees is broken. “This is a place where you never can get all you want,” Tester said. “You take what you can,” and try to continue making improvements down the road. Other issues Tester addressed included the announcement by Smurfit-Stone Container it will close a lumber mill in Frenchtown, cutting 417 jobs and possibly hundreds more with impacts in related industries. Tester said both he and Baucus have worked to ensure that funds are available for retraining and relocating workers who have lost their jobs and that pending bills and an economy that seems to slowly be coming out of recession could help. Tester has sponsored a bill that addresses both the creation and protection of recreation areas while requiring additional logging in certain areas. The bill had its first hearing, in the Senate Public Lands and Forests subcommittee, Thursday. Both Tester and Baucus, a cosponsor of the bill, testified during the hearing. Tester said during the press conference that the logging required in the bill could help the Smurfit-Stone Container employees find work. “That's going to impact supply in a positive way for the mills, and I think its going to put some folks to work in the forest and at the mills,” he said. He said once the housing industry recovers from the recession that also will help people in the timber and lumber industry. “We're starting to see things turn around,” Tester said. “It's not turned around yet.”


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