Montana’s senior senator is not convinced that high level, closed-door budget negotiations in Washington D.C. will avert a partial government shutdown.
"Look, I would say at this moment in time it’s 50-50," Democratic Sen. Jon Tester says.
Tester flew home Thursday night to Montana for the Christmas break assuming a stopgap bill passed by Congress would keep the government open through February. Those hopes were dashed when the Senate was called back into session after President Donald Trump demanded over $5 billion for the southern border.
“So I got up at 2:30 this morning and headed to the airport to fly back here," Tester says.
Tester, the ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, points out Congress already appropriated $1.7 billion for border security in Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018.
“There was supposed to be a study on how the Department of Homeland Security was going to spend those dollars allocated for the wall or the fence, whatever you want to call it, on the southern border. It was due in September, we never got it. It’s also interesting because the dollars that we allocated last year for the wall – no dirt has been moved with those dollars.”
Montana’s Republican Senator, Steve Daines, supports the president’s demands for almost $6 billion to fund the border wall with Mexico. Daines today urged the GOP to use the so-called "nuclear option" to change the rules and allow a simple majority, up-or down vote; a call praised in a presidential tweet this morning.
Daines’ office did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s interview request today.
Democrat Tester says there’s little bipartisan appetite to change the Senate rules.
Back in 2013, however, Tester joined then-senator Max Baucus in supporting that very same option to blast some of President Obama’s judicial nominees out of political limbo.
“If I looked back and said, 'hey, what are the mistakes I’ve made,' that was one of them. I should not have done that," Tester says. "We should have insisted Harry Reid keep us here day and night, weekends and holidays until we got those judges through. That would have been a better way to go.”
At this hour Trump and congressional Democrats are refusing to budge an inch in their budget impasse. If an agreement can’t be reached, more than 800,000 federal employees would see their jobs disrupted, including more than half who would be forced to continue working without pay.