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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) holds a press conference at Riverstone Health to talk about the Senate's health care bill Friday, June 30, 2017.

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Update Senate rule. The U.S. Senate continues to waste taxpayer money and time by allowing senators to file campaign finance reports on paper forms that must be keyed into computer systems by federal workers, thus delaying public access to the information for weeks or months after an election. The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 298) would force U.S. Senators to file digital reports — like other elected officials, including most in Montana are required to do. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., are championing S. 298; Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is among the cosponsors who now number 41. Digital reporting is a no-brainer in 2017. We commend Tester and Daines and urge them to get more of their colleagues to support this bill yet this summer.

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Bipartisan letter. The entire Montana and North Dakota congressional delegations signed a letter calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to “provide assurances’” that funding currently allocated for the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project won’t be transferred or reduced while the agencies conduct further court-ordered analysis. The project has been stalled over the question of whether the proposed new dam would help or eliminate the pallid sturgeon, an ancient native river species. The project is needed to continue irrigation on 50,000 acres of farmland.

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United for vets. Congressional veterans affairs committees are demonstrating a remarkable degree of Democratic-Republican agreement this summer amid the partisan controversies swirling on Capitol Hill. A New York Times column last week credited Senate committee chairman Johnny Isaakson and Tester, the ranking minority member, for a partnership that has yielded good legislation for veterans services, including speeding confirmation of the new VA secretary, passage of a temporary fix for the flawed Veterans Choice Program and an accountability measure that aims to protect whistle blowers, expedite the filling of director vacancies and allow the firing of bad employees.

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Evasive IHS. When the man in charge of Indian Health Service testified to a Senate appropriations committee last week, he managed to spark bipartisan fury by failing to answer direct questions about the budget proposed for an agency that is supposed to deliver health care to 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee refused to tell Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, whether the Trump administration’s proposed funding but would leave IHS with sufficient funds for patient care. Weahkee refused to tell Tester how the budget would affect HIS staffing levels — although Tester asked the question seven times.

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Montana tribal health. Meanwhile in Helena, the state health department announced the launch of a grant program to help Montana tribes and urban Indian health care organizations prevent injury and illness in a population with an average life span of 20 years less than the general Montana population. Injury, suicide, diabetes, chemical dependency, obesity and cancer take terrible tolls on Native American communities. There’s plenty of work to do in preventing death and disability.

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