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Last week, the U.S. Senate passed four major appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The fate of all that legislation is uncertain. The bills could be reconciled in conference committees with the House or some version of the bills could be rolled into a single, belated mega-appropriations measure.

Both of Montana's U.S. senators took to email to tout their priorities that were included in the bills. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines both counted as wins:

  • An increase in anti-meth funding of $5 million, that would bring annual funding for the program to $13 million — not a lot of money to quell a nationwide epidemic.
  • Setting aside 5% of the $3.17 billion Crime Victims Fund to be used by Native American tribes.
  • $10 million for the Small Community Air Service Development Program, a long name for the source that has matched local funding to lure American Airlines flights to Billings, Bozeman and Missoula in the past few years.
  • $5 million for state grants to develop and implement chronic wasting disease surveillance and response.
  • $16.5 million to implement the industrial hemp provisions of the Farm Bill.
  • $80 million for drug treatment courts, which Daines said is a $3 million increase more than last year's funding. (Most drug courts in Montana were started with federal grants.)
  • A Land Water Conservation Fund appropriation of $465 million, up $30 million from last year. (In January, both Daines and Tester voted for permanent reauthorization of the LWCF at full funding of $900 million. Despite continued lobbying by conservation and outdoor recreation advocates, it looks like the promise of full funding will go unfulfilled again in the present fiscal year.)

Tester highlighted other provisions of the $3.17 billion Crime Victim Fund, including $500 million for the Violence Against Women Act that would provide $43.5 million for services and prevention in rural communities and $26.5 million for transitional housing of victims of domestic violence.

Daines listed a $1 million increase in funding research on plant disease to improve sugar beet quality.

Daines touted $28 million for Justice Reinvestment grants, including $12 million for Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children.

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Tester said the legislation approved last week included his amendments to restore public access to the Yellowstone River at the USDA's Fort Keogh facility. Miles City area folks have worked with USDA to enhance security and reopen the river access after incidents of vandalism. 

Both Tester and Daines sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ensures that Montana concerns are heard on both sides of the aisle. However, committee bills only move forward at the pleasure of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate bills must get approval in the House of Representatives and the White House. The nation's annual appropriations process has deteriorated into partisan slugfests that last longer and longer into the fiscal year. There now is little hope that Congress will complete a full-year budget before leaving for Christmas vacation.

The House impeachment inquiry must not bring other pressing congressional work to a standstill. A fiscal 2020 budget is urgently needed to provide certainty to Americans and direction to public servants.

With our senators agreeing on at least four Senate appropriations bills, we call on them to push for a complete budget before Christmas. Congress must speed up from its snail's pace. Voting against budget bills just so a member of Congress can claim to be against spending is an abdication of congressional duty.

Congress must get its job done now — before the nation enters a second quarter without a budget. There absolutely must be compromise on a spending plan that majorities of both chambers will support, a compromise that President Trump can't refuse.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.