HELENA — Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running for the Senate next year, criticized Democratic Sen. Jon Tester for voting against a “sense of the Senate” resolution this week supporting a balanced federal budget.

“Common sense will tell you that Montanans want a balanced-budget requirement at the federal level,” Rehberg said in a phone interview. “It’s the quickest, best and easiest way to balance the budget.”

The Senate failed to get the three-fifths majority vote Tuesday night to pass the resolution.

Fifty-eight senators voted for it, while 40 voted no and two didn’t vote. Democratic Sen. Max Baucus joined Tester in voting no. Among the 10 Democrats supporting the resolution were seven who are up for re-election in 2012, as Tester is.

Rehberg, a six-term congressman, announced last month that he is challenging Tester, who is seeking a second six-year term in the Senate next year.

A balanced-federal-budget amendment would require a two-thirds majority in both the U.S. Senate and House and then would need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Rehberg noted that Tester, in his address to the 2011 Legislature, touted Montana’s constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Tester was president of the Montana Senate in 2005, while Rehberg served in the Montana House in the 1980s.

“If it’s good enough for the Montana (state) senators to balance their budget, why isn’t it good enough for the U.S. senators to balance theirs?” Rehberg said.

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In response, Tester’s spokesman Aaron Murphy said Rehberg’s comments are “a clear example of the difference between Jon Tester’s responsible decision-making and Congressman Dennis Rehberg’s gimmicks.”

Rehberg said the first bill he introduced this session of Congress was one calling for a balanced federal budget.

He said Tester and Baucus “talk a good story” about balancing the budget, but added: “Good intentions are not a good story if there’s not the backbone behind it.”

Rehberg said the United States cannot sustain the current level of spending and hope to have an improved level of spending and create jobs.

He said that from the beginning of the United States until Jan. 1, 2007, when the Democrats took over the U.S. House and Senate under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the combined national debt was $8 trillion. Since then, the debt has practically doubled to just shy of $15 trillion under the Democratic Congress, he said.

Meanwhile, Murphy defended Tester’s budget record and criticized Rehberg’s.

“Of course Jon supports a balanced budget, and he has a record of cutting spending,” Murphy said. “But he knows it’s not going to happen by voting for a nonbinding ‘sense of the Senate’ that does nothing to actually balance the budget. It takes a credible, responsible long-term plan.

“You can expect a career politician like Congressman Dennis Rehberg to tell you a symbolic gimmick will balance our budget, but you won’t hear that from a Montana farmer like Jon Tester.”

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