Montana’s congressional delegation voted to avert a second government shutdown Thursday, but were split on President Donald Trump’s call for a national emergency declaration on the U.S.-Mexican border.
The $333 billion budget deal is enough to keep the government fully operational through the federal fiscal year, which ends in September. Tucked away in the agreement was $1.37 billion for 55 miles of fencing along the southern border. The $5.7 billion Trump had demanded for 234 miles of steel wall between U.S. and Mexico didn’t make the cut.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told lawmakers before the vote that Trump would be declaring a national emergency in order to bypass Congress on the wall funding.
Democrats and some Republicans said Trump was setting the bar too low for using emergency powers. Montana’s Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines were mixed, though both were in the yes column on the 86-13 vote. The state’s at-large Representative Greg Gianforte also voted yes.
“Declaring a national emergency is a slippery slope, and I share the concerns expressed by my Republican and Democratic colleagues in recent weeks,” Tester said in an email. “But today I’m proud that Congress did its job and came up with a bipartisan, bicameral bill that works for the country.”
Tester was one of seven senators on the joint committee that crafted the compromise bill. Three weeks ago, the committee was assembled to avoid another border security stalemate like the one in December that resulted in the longest partial shutdown in history. In that case, Trump had refused to the sign the government funding bill if his $5.7 billion in wall money wasn’t included. Republicans attempted to oblige him, but couldn’t muster the votes.
The president said Thursday he would sign the bill to keep the government open without the wall money.
On Monday, I saw the illegal drug crisis at our southern border firsthand at the Rio Grande Valley. Today is a down payment to strengthen our border security and keep the government open. Much more remains to be done.— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) February 15, 2019
Daines, a Republican, said immigration had become a crisis. In the days leading up to the Thursday’s vote, he toured a portion of the southern border, spending time with agents working the night shift.
“In talking to these men and women who bravely serve every night, it is a crisis, and what’s happening is you have these Mexican cartels, and El Chapo is an example of that, he was convicted in New York and hopefully gets life in prison,” Daines said. “But these cartels divide up the territory across our southern border and each are running multibillion-dollar businesses, and they get their revenues by trafficking men and women and children across the border and through drugs. This is a national crisis. Look no further than what is going on right now in Montana with methamphetamine and what’s coming across the southern border is methamphetamine, fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.”
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Daines said the $1.37 billion for border security was a down payment, a phrased used by several Republicans after the vote. He said the border security debate would continue throughout the year.
Gianforte's statement read:
“This bill funds the government and continues efforts to secure our borders. Unfortunately, America has a crisis on our southern border, which I saw firsthand when I met with ranchers and border patrol agents in Arizona. While this bill is a step in the right direction, it provides only a fraction of what’s needed to build meaningful physical barriers. I’ll continue working with the president and lawmakers to address this crisis and secure our borders.”
Border security was a fraction of Thursday’s compromise bill, which funded major branches of government, including the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and the Indian Health Service.
There was a 1.9 percent pay increase in the deal for federal workers, of whom there are more than 7,000 in Montana.
There was a $10 million increase in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a now $435 million program that uses offshore oil well royalties to pay for public parks and conservation projects. Six Montana projects were directly targeted by the additional funding. There was $2 billion for wildfire suppression, and $364 million for addressing the $11 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.
There was $550 million dedicated to improving broadband services in rural areas and full funding for Essential Air Service flights connecting small Montana airports to Billings and Butte to Salt Lake. Amtrak long-distance routes, like the Chicago to Portland Empire Builder, were fully funded.
Nearly $5 billion was appropriated for affordable housing.
For American Indian communities, there was $168 million for crime victims funding, $411 million for Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement, $3.4 million for infrastructure, $4 million for housing, and $755 million for Native American Housing Block Grants.
Border security was not left out of the bill. Technology for scanning vehicles at ports of entry were funded, which was a Tester priority in the compromise bill.