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Tester says national emergency is an attack on the legislative branch


February 27, 2019

Jon Tester

In a telephone press conference from Washington, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, said he plans to vote against President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration once it reaches the Senate.

Trump declared a national emergency Feb. 15 to fund building a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico, accessing billions of dollars to use for the wall.

Congress previously refused to give him money to build a wall, which led to the longest partial federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

Trump's emergency declaration has transformed a policy dispute into a confrontational debate over the Constitution's separation of powers.

"I think it's an attack on our Constitution, certainly an attack on the legislative branch," Tester said.

Tester was one of the seven senators on the bipartisan conference committee tasked with providing budgets for unfunded agencies, including for border security, created after Congress voted to temporarily reopen the government.

Tester said he and the rest of the bipartisan conference committee formulated the budget agreement and sent it to the president.

Trump, although he signed the budget, said wasn't good enough on border security and decided to declare a national emergency.

"I think it's dangerous," Tester said. "Not only from a constitutional standpoint, but from a precedent-setting standpoint. I think it's very dangerous."

He said a large portion of the money the president wants to use for the border wall doesn't exist.

He added that the real issue are the ports, with the port officials needing to scan entrants at the ports for drugs, money and guns. This will help with problem, he said - not solve it, but certainly help.

"It shouldn't be a political thing," he said. "... In normal days, regardless of party, that would not be tolerated, but these aren't normal days."

He added that the bipartisan budget agreement that will keep the government open also provides critical funding for Montana.

The budget includes funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Montana Farm Service Agency Offices, which help farmers and ranchers navigate the new farm bill, he said.

It also prohibits Montana Department of Transportation from enforcing electronic log rules for people hauling livestock, Tester said, which has a detrimental effect on agriculture.

The budget agreement will provide full funding of Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, despite Trump's efforts to close the laboratory, Tester said.

The budget also will fund programs to improve public lands, he said, such as securing $2 billion for wildfire suppression and $40 million for collaborative legacy restoration programs, which are responsible for harvesting timber. This will also include $364 million for construction and deferred maintenance in national parks he said.

Tester said the budget will be used to upgrade infrastructure in Montana, fund Amtrak's Empire Builder and fully fund Essential Air Service programs, which many Montanans in rural communities - including Havre - depend on. It will also invest $550 million to expand high speed internet in Montana, he added.

The budget will also provide $900 million for grants to expand transportation and infrastructure projects, he said.

"After a unnecessary and costly government shutdown, I was glad to be part of the conference committee that got the job done," he said.

Many important issues need to be focused on, he said, and health care is the top among them.

Tester said he recently introduced bills to support critical access to hospitals, getting qualified doctors to rural Montana and reduce the cost of medication.

"Hospitals and health care providers just don't just keep their patients alive, they keep their communities alive as well," Tester said.

Tester's SPIKE Act would force pharmaceutical companies to publicly disclose their reasoning for any significant raises in price of prescription drugs.

He said that over the years prescription drug prices have skyrocketed and companies haven't been required to provide reasons.

Insulin itself, for example, has not changed over the years, he said, although the cost of this crucial medication has risen, costing patients more than a hundred dollars per prescription.

The bill, Tester said, will increase transparency so companies have to justify the cost.

"If they can't justify it, we'll have the FDA put the screws to them," he said.

He added that Congress recently passed a bill to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which, he said, is the best tool the country has to conserve lands and improve outdoor recreation. In the past, he said, this has been used as a political pawn and because of that expired for the first time its 50-year history in 2015 when Congress did not reauthorize it.

It is funded by offshore drilling, he said, and was done this way to assure that all states can benefit from it.

He added that, along with its permanent authorizing, he is sponsoring a piece of legislation which will provide $900 million to fully fund LCWF.

Tester said that last week he was also given the chance to travel across Montana, his first stop being Malmstrom Air Force Base. He said he has fought hard for the past few years to secure funding for the base. Some of this funding is for replacing Huey helicopters, which have been used since the 1960s; securing funding for new weapons storage facilities; upgrading missile alert facilities and funding ground-based missiles initiatives, he said.

He added that these are critical and a top priority for the Department of Defense to keep Malmstrom strong, in contrast to taking funds or shutting down the government for a border wall.

"It raises many questions about the administration's repeated request for more military funding only to steal it for political priorities," Tester said.

"Now this fight is far from over and I'll keep pushing to ensure the president's actions don't come at the expense of our men and women in uniform or to Malmstrom Air Force Base."


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