HELENA — All of Montana’s members of Congress were in Helena Monday, to give state lawmakers an update on their work in Washington, D.C.
This year, all four members of the Montana delegation spoke on the same day. They each took 15 to 25 minutes to address legislators during a special joint session of the state House and Senate.
First up was Sen. Jon Tester, the lone Democrat in the delegation. He highlighted successes like the passage of the PACT Act, and vowed he would stand up to the Biden administration on issues where they didn’t do what was in Montana’s best interests. Tester also called on the Legislature to protect “privacy and freedom” in the state, and he urged them to use the budget surplus to help working families with needs like housing and child care.
“It is time to use Montana common sense and to come together to address this issue, so that we can make sure our state remains the last best place for everyone who wants to put down roots here, not just for those who can afford it,” he said.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines blasted the federal government for their handling of issues like the southern border, inflation, forest management and energy. On foreign policy, he accused the administration of “emboldening America’s enemies.” He contrasted that with the direction state officials have taken – praising Gov. Greg Gianforte and the Legislature for their tax policies and for protecting Montana’s way of life.
“People, as we know, are moving to Montana – not just because they saw the show ‘Yellowstone,’” Daines said. “They're moving here for the quality of life – we've always known that about Montana – but they're also moving here for the quality of leadership.”
Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, representing Montana’s western House district, was also critical of the Biden administration. However, he said he saw opportunities to work together to get things done and he’s willing to work with “anyone who loves Montana.” He said Congress needs to open up the federal budget and take a closer look at how money is spent, particularly so-called “mandatory spending” for ongoing programs.
“Some programs have outlived their life and no longer provide the service that they were intended,” Zinke said. “In some areas, we need more money, we need more funding – it's true. But Congress has to review it.”
Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Republican representing the state’s eastern congressional district, touted his actions during this year’s race for U.S. House Speaker. He was one of several staunch conservatives who withheld their vote to force rule changes. Rosendale said he’d continue to take strong stands during the upcoming debt ceiling and budget fights, and that would provide leverage to push back on federal spending.
“Congress is not working the way that the Montana Legislature has been working, I can guarantee you that,” he said. “So in order for us to start making some changes, then you have to change the way that the place functions, and you have to change the people that have been in charge.”
Tester, Zinke and Rosendale all served in the Montana Legislature before their time in Congress.
Also during Monday’s joint session, Tom McDonald, chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ tribal council, spoke on behalf of Montana’s tribal nations. He talked about the strong partnership they've built with state leaders, the need for more action on issues like drugs and missing and murdered people, and the strength that comes from Montana’s diverse population.
“To embrace and celebrate our diversity makes our state stronger and better prepared for challenges and opportunities into the future,” McDonald said.