Tester: The Wrong and Right Bailouts

By Kellyn Brown

Sen. Jon Tester voted against the $700 billion bailout for the nation’s financial industry because he couldn’t find anyone who could tell him “it would do any good.” He then opposed a bailout for Detroit’s automakers because the “big three’s” business plan “wasn’t really a business plan.”

It put him in a unique position, as he became the only Democrat in the Democrat-controlled Congress to oppose both bailouts. The first rescue package eventually passed. The second failed, but President Bush opted to loan General Motors and Chrysler bailout monies anyway.

For Tester, a Big Sandy farmer and Montana’s junior U.S. senator in his first term, the tail end of the 110th Congress was trying. In a recent interview at the Beacon office in Kalispell, Tester reiterated that he voted properly, and the initial Wall Street bailout “hasn’t done much to make credit more available on Main Street.”

Tester’s “no” votes have been well received in Montana, and he has been thanked almost unanimously for them by constituents. But to be clear, he’s not opposed to the government injecting money into the economy. In fact, he knows another stimulus plan is in the works, which may cost up to $1 trillion.

This plan, Tester says, must focus on infrastructure that would put regular Montanans back to work. He acknowledges the price tag can “defy imagination.” When asked how all the money the government is printing will be repaid, he, like so many in Washington, doesn’t have a clear answer.

His first priority is getting the gears of the economy turning again. He thinks a plan focused on rebuilding roads and bridges will help blue collar Montanans get back to work.

“I think the stimulus package will help employ people in the short-term when they have been laid off,” Tester said. “Once you get the economy spinning and feeding off itself again those jobs will be recreated.”

Not everyone agrees. The same day Tester visited Kalispell to explain his support for a stimulus package, his colleague, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., told a Helena crowd that government money should, instead of infrastructure, be used for “major projects,” such as coal-to-liquid fuel plants.

While politicians are bound to disagree on how the influx of cash should be divvied up, they agree that the largest government rescue package in decades is poised to pass. And Tester expects the rescue package to pass quickly.

After all, Democrats will control both Congress and the White House when Tester enters his second session. Subsequently, they will assume much of the responsibility for the nation’s economic health.

In the Flathead, as employers continue to shed manufacturing jobs, pumping some life into the economy can’t come soon enough. But there is a general leeriness of Washington’s ability to offer a hand, and Tester acknowledged that he’s aware of sinking Congressional approval ratings.

Still, he said, “I’ve think we’ve done pretty darn well … If you look at what we’ve got done, we’ve got a lot done.”

The next Congress, with a new administration at the helm, will be heavily scrutinized – thus criticized. There are rumors that Tester hates Washington anyway, and won’t be running for a second term in 2012.

He chuckled at that suggestion, however, and said he would anticipate running again. But not because he’s fallen for life in the city.

“Would I choose to live there if I wasn’t in the U.S. Senate?” Tester asked. “No.”