MTN News: Tester supports fed budget deal; Daines, Zinke vote against it

HELENA – Montana’s two senators split their votes early Friday on the federal budget deal that will avoid a government default and partial shutdown and set spending levels into 2017.

Democrat Jon Tester, the state’s senior senator, voted for the deal, which passed 64-35 just after 3 a.m. eastern time. Republican Steve Daines was among the GOP senators who voted against it.

Tester said he’s disappointed that budget talks apparently must come to a crisis to get resolved, but that the deal represents a compromise that includes many positive things.

“By raising the debt ceiling, we will prevent interest rates from skyrocketing and the value of the dollar from plummeting,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “ … We will do away with the severe budget cuts that were hurting our veterans, seniors, students and working families. …

“And it reduces a massive premium hike that was scheduled to impact 46,000 Montanans who use Medicare for their health insurance.”

Daines took to the Senate floor to denounce the deal, saying he was elected to get the country’s spending under control.

The “backroom deal” doesn’t do that, he said, and also hurts programs that help Montanans, such as crop insurance.

“The crop insurance program was gutted as a way to make this deal work,” he said. “Where was the voice of Montana, the voice of rural America, when this backroom deal was cut?”

Tester also noted problems with the deal, saying it cuts payments for rural hospitals. Yet he also said some of the problems can be addressed during the appropriations process in the coming weeks.

The deal, which President Barack Obama has said he will sign, raises the federal debt ceiling until March 2017 and sets budget levels for the next two years. However, Congress still must pass appropriations bills this year that authorize actual spending.

The other member of Montana’s congressional delegation, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., voted against the deal on Wednesday in the House.

In explaining his opposition, Zinke cited the deal’s cuts to the crop-insurance program and rural hospitals and its failure to address the national debt.

The “no” votes by Zinke and Daines prompted criticism from Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan.

She said Friday that both men sided with “extreme minorities in Congress.”

“Montana has only a few voices in Congress and Congressman and Sen. Daines wasted them,” she said in a statement.

The state Republican Party also rapped Tester for supporting the deal, saying he talks about fiscal responsibility but votes for a deal that puts the country further into debt.

“This is the latest example of Tester telling Montanans one thing and then voting to prioritize the needs of President Obama and the (Democratic) Party,” said party spokesman Shane Scanlon.