There have been no commanding Montana rallies this time, no President Donald Trump swooping down in Air Force One on four separate occasions, breathing hot MAGA fire to ignite Republicans on Matt Rosendale’s behalf.
This time, it’s just Matt, a wiry, Tea Party-era climber in his third congressional race since 2014. His 2018 defeat to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is a loss that came with $5.9 million of campaigning, which kept Rosendale in front of people. Elected state auditor in 2016, he’s been a candidate in every election cycle since 2010 and on the statewide ballot four election cycles in a row.
For Rosendale, it all started with the Tea Party wave in 2010. It was the first election cycle after President Barack Obama’s victory. He wanted to get involved after moving to Glendive from Maryland. His strong accent still persists. Democrats have spent millions labeling Rosendale “Maryland Matt.”
“I got in because I was witnessing an expansion of government and the people from my community, which was Dawson County recruited me to climb and help build a firewall, if you will, to keep government from growing and encroaching in their lives,” Rosendale said.
Republicans were angry. President George W. Bush had partnered in December 2008 with a Democratic congress to bail out the auto industry with $17.4 billion in subsidies. President Obama then partnered with congressional Democrats to pass the $831 billion stimulus bill in their 2009 response to the recession. And then came the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”
A decade on, the issues look very similar, but with Republicans at two of three levers of power. The Congressional Budget Office reports $2.3 trillion in coronavirus spending added to the deficit in federal fiscal year 2020, much of it for business bailouts. Days into the 2021 federal fiscal year, $600 billion has been added, with President Trump advocating for more stimulus. The airline industry is calling for a federal bailout. The Affordable Care Act faces a big Supreme Court ruling that could end parts or all of a law responsible for extending Medicaid to 90,0000 working Montanans, as well as making sure people aren’t denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.
Rosendale is promising stimulus support where needed. He has an economic plan but it’s unlikely House Democrats with a 36-seat advantage will lose their majority. Even when Republicans are in charge, Montana’s only representative really doesn’t set the agenda for the other 434 members. In the House, stimulus bills will be likely dictated by Democrats. The last House has passed two COVID-19 relief bills since May to the Senate’s none, but the House bills received little Republican support.
“Conservative principles certainly do not keep me from signing off and providing absolutely necessary relief for the people across this state that one, need it for medical purposes, or two, have their businesses suffering because of a closure that was mandated by government,” Rosendale said. “Unfortunately, whether we want to have this as a partisan discussion, or not, what is unfortunate is that Nancy Pelosi has made it exceedingly clear that she really didn’t want to negotiate. That she wanted to pack that legislation full of expenditures that have zero to do with COVID relief. That is where I have a problem with it.”
Tuesday, President Trump signaled that negotiations for another COVID-19 bill would have to wait until after the election. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 376 points. Trump and House Democrats were about $800 billion apart on the amount needed in the next bill.
Rosendale is as opposed to the Affordable Care Act today as he was in 2010. Now as then, Republicans see government involvement in health care as an attack on their freedom. Opposing ACA doesn’t mean returning to the way things were before Obamacare, Rosendale said.
In Congress, Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act when they controlled both branches of Congress and had a willing President Trump. They also didn’t produce a plan for what health care would look like after repeal.
What Rosendale advocates for are health care options that are cheaper on the front end, but maybe not on the back. He’s an advocate for direct primary care centers where instead of insurance, people play a monthly fee for minimal services like physicals, medical consultation and a limited extra charge for procedures like stitches and IUD placement, though not the IUD.
The Auditor supports short-term limited duration health insurance as well. Intended to be temporary, gap insurance, short-term policies don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions and can come with limits on health coverage costs. They might not cover COVID-19 care, but they are cheaper than comprehensive health insurance.
Democrats have written off both primary care centers and short-term insurance as worthless. Gov. Bullock twice vetoed bills promoting primary care centers, arguing that they don't offer any coverage insurance didn’t already.
“I authorized direct primary care facilities, they opened up across that state. Not only are we getting tremendous feedback from the patients, the consumers, but the physicians that own and operate these facilities are calling me up and telling me how much they enjoy practicing medicine again,” Rosendale said.
His opponent, Kathleen Williams, supports the continuation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as giving people as young as 55 the option of paying to join Medicare early, a move Rosendale said the was an endorsement of Bernie Sanders' universal health care policy.
Rosendale’s often-repeated promise is to get rid of regulations, but he couldn’t identify a particular regulation when asked.
“This is something that, again, I look to the business community and listen to them, take their input and get the feedback on what they’re being required to do that’s not having any impact on protecting the consumer or protecting our water, or protecting our air,” he said.