HELENA – As the federal government headed toward a possible shutdown Friday, political opponents of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester pointed fingers at him and other Democrats, saying they’re to blame.
Meanwhile, Montana’s Republican U.S. senator, Steve Daines, told reporters Friday evening that supporting a short-term budget fix from GOP leaders should be “a pretty easy vote,” and that he hoped enough Democrats would join to pass it Friday night.
“We need the help from Democrats to vote for a clean (budget bill), that adds a six-year reauthorization of the CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Plan),” Daines said. “That ought to be a pretty easy vote.”
The federal government will shut down at midnight Friday if a budget bill isn’t passed.
Majority Republicans in the House passed a short-term fix Thursday, but it takes 60 votes in the Senate to approve the measure and Republicans control only 51 seats.
Daines said he thought a vote would occur later Friday night.
Earlier Friday afternoon, Tester took to the Senate floor to blast GOP leadership for “playing politics” with the budget, by constantly delaying any long-term funding in favor of continual holdover measures.
“For 111 days, the leadership on the other side of the aisle, and intentionally so, I believe, have played politics and kicked the can down the road,” he said. “This is not nuclear physics, folks. This is about funding our government. It’s not that tough.”
Tester is up for re-election this year.
Tester indicated Thursday that he planned to vote against the short-term funding bill, which reauthorizes federal funding for CHIP, a program that covers health insurance for 24,000 Montana kids in lower-income families.
On Friday, national Republican-aligned groups and the state Republican Party labeled Tester a hypocrite for not supporting the GOP’s short-term budget bill, noting that he had criticized Republicans in 2013 for forcing a shutdown of the federal government.
“It’s a sad day for Montana when Jon Tester stands with (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer of New York to shut down the government instead of with President Trump, who won Montana by over 20 points,” said a release from the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican Super-PAC.
Montana Republican Party Chair Debra Lamm said Tester is “standing in lock-step with his party bosses” to force an agreement on an immigration bill, offering “further proof that he will show blind loyalty to an extremist liberal party” rather than put the interests of Montanans first, and keep the government open.
Yet during his floor remarks, Tester barely mentioned the immigration issue, instead focusing on the Republican majority’s inability to pass a long-term budget bill.
Tester and his campaign also said the attacks leveled at him only prove that the budget standoff is a political move by Republicans, playing brinksmanship with the budget so they can blame Democrats in an election year.
“(Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and his political cronies are using the threat of a shutdown to play politics instead of find real solutions to real issues that will hurt people, including 100,000 Montanans who go to community health centers for care,” said campaign spokesman Chris Meagher.
Tester has noted that the budget fix leaves out funding for many vital services in Montana, including money for federally funded health clinics.