Great Falls Tribune: Daines says Congress is ‘out of touch’

Members of Congress are more concerned with their own success than with their constituents’ well-being and need to be held accountable, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said Tuesday in his first major floor speech.

Daines, who served one term in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate last fall, said Washington is “out of touch with the day-to-day struggles” of farmers and ranchers, union workers and tribal members. During the 11-minute speech, the former business executive who grew up in Bozeman chided Washington for overreaching and putting up barriers that have hindered job growth.

Daines has spoken previously on the Senate floor to discuss amendments he’s introduced and other issues. Tuesday was the first time he’s outlined his priorities in a full-length speech, a tradition among freshman senators.

Washington is more concerned with its own self-interests and self-gain than the well-being of the American people,” Daines said. “As we begin consideration of the federal budget this week, we must hold government accountable to the people.”

Daines noted that the first Senate bill he introduced was the Balanced Budget Accountability Act, which would require lawmakers to balance the budget or forgo their salaries.

He used his floor speech to offer examples of the divide between Washington lawmakers and the people they represent.

President Barack Obama’s opposition to legislation to approve construction of the 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline was a missed opportunity to create jobs, lower the country’s dependence on foreign energy and help Montana residents, Daines said.

Daines accused Obama of playing “politics with good-paying American jobs” in vetoing the legislation, which passed Congress earlier this year. A significant portion of the TransCanada Corp. pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb., would pass through Montana.

The first-term senator also said the federal government has failed to properly manage the country’s national forests. Daines noted that, like many other Western states, Montana’s ailing timber industry was once robust. The state also depends on these public lands to help boost tourism.

“Timber harvests on (Montana’s) national forests have declined 82 percent,” Daines said. “We must implement meaningful forest management reform that get our timber industry up and running again, and improves the health of all of our forests, and ensures that our rural counties aren’t dependent on the whims of the federal government’s annual budget.”

Daines criticized a recent plan by the Federal Communications Commission that would regulate Internet service providers as a utility. Regulating the Internet, Daines said, would stifle innovation and act as a roadblock toward high-tech job creation.

“That’s like putting a buggy whip manufacturer in charge of Tesla,” he said.

Daines said lawmakers need to put politics aside and work together to find solutions to get the country back on track. He said Washington lawmakers need to more closely follow the Constitution and give local communities, states and tribes more authority over their destiny.

“It’s time for Washington to listen to Montana,” he said.