Last week, the Bitterroot Star was one of a number of Montana newspapers that received a call from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Democrat from Big Sandy, who wanted to talk about the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.
“I come from a small town and I think small town newspapers are really important and people value them very, very much,” said Tester.
He said his office had been getting calls from our area about the Inflation Reduction Act which was signed into law by President Biden on August 16 after being passed without any Republican support.
According to a White House fact sheet, the goal of the Act is to lower prescription drug costs, health care costs, and energy costs; take aggressive action on tackling the climate crisis while creating good-paying jobs; lower the deficit; and ask the ultra-wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share through a 15% minimum corporate tax.
Tester said this bill will “reduce the [federal] debt in a serious manner which is something I think most people in Montana are concerned about – by $300 billion, by the way – a serious amount of money which is something hopefully we can continue to do going forward… It reduces health care costs, and makes health care more accessible, which is really important in a state like Montana because it’s so big.”
He said this is the first time ever that Medicare will now be able to negotiate drug prices, which will reduce health care costs, and will save money, particularly for seniors. “The Veterans Administration has been doing this for a long time and it’s been working very, very well,” said Tester. “It’s absolutely going to help with the seniors, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
The Act will help with oil and gas production as well as renewables, said Tester. “This helps oil and gas. It helps renewables. This will put more energy into the marketplace which I think is what we need to have happen with less reliance on our foreign adversaries for energy… This is a net winner, especially for a state like Montana.”
Tester pointed out that the Act doesn’t raise any taxes.
“This isn’t raising any taxes,” said Tester. “But it’s meant to hold the big guys, the millionaires and billionaires who are paying zero in taxes, accountable… This is a great nation. This nation has allowed myself, my kids, hopefully my grandkids, certainly my parents and grandparents, to be able to survive, to be successful because of the work that has been done by previous folks. I can tell you that sitting as chairman of the Defense Committee on Appropriations, keeping this country safe costs money, paying for farm programs costs money, making sure that we’ve got a topnotch education system costs money. And so making sure that folks pay their fair share is important… There will be no new taxes on individuals that are making less than $400,000.”
Another component of the bill is adding personnel to the Internal Revenue Service so it can provide better service as well as go after tax evaders.
“Our office also gets a lot of calls from folks who need help with some different tax component,” said Tester. “They can never get hold of a human being at the IRS because they truly are very, very understaffed.”
According to the White House fact sheet on the Act, the Internal Revenue Service will now have enough agents to be able to go after tax dodgers, ensuring the wealthy and large corporations pay the taxes they already owe. They will crack down on the largest profitable corporations that currently get away with paying little to no federal income tax, instituting a minimum corporate tax of 15%. A 1% surcharge will be imposed on corporate stock buybacks, to encourage businesses to invest instead of enriching CEOs or funneling profits tax-free to shareholders. Taxpayer services will be improved so that regular Americans can get their questions answered and access the credits and benefits they are entitled to.
Tester, who noted that he had recently turned 66, said, “Growing up was a long time ago, but my folks always said it’s your patriotic duty to pay taxes and so I think that’s part of it too. I wasn’t elected to the U.S. Senate to protect millionaires and billionaires who are maybe trying to buy my vote on a certain issue. I’m here to provide equity and so that everybody is treated fairly and I think that’s what the IRS component does.”
“The Inflation Reduction Act happened through a process called reconciliation… and it got done, and it may not have got done any other way,” said Tester. “We visit with a lot of folks here. There are some folks who don’t want to see debt reduction, they don’t think debt matters. I think debt reduction matters… health care is important, energy. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get bipartisan support. It’s also unfortunate that there’s a lot of information that’s been put out that is slanted and not entirely accurate. There are some bills I don’t like a lot of, or I only like part of, or I don’t like at all. This bill is pretty doggone good.”
When asked why people are calling his office regarding this legislation, he said, “People are trying to classify this as being socialism,” said Tester. “I think that’s a far stretch. They are calling about the high cost of energy… thank God it’s come down some in the last couple of months. When I pull up to the pump and fill up my tractor with diesel fuel, it cuts a pretty big hole… We not only create energy but we use a lot of it too.”
Tester said this will promote more oil and gas production in Montana on the lease sales, it will push the Dept. of Interior to continue to offer oil and gas leases. “We have a lot of federal lands in Montana and that’s going to help.”
The Inflation Reduction Act also establishes Make it in America provisions for the use of American-made equipment for clean energy production. The law provides expanded clean energy tax credits for wind, solar, nuclear, clean hydrogen, clean fuels, and carbon capture, including bonus credits for businesses that pay workers a prevailing wage and use registered apprenticeship programs.
Regarding the environment, Tester said, “The environment’s a big deal. This bill also promotes carbon sequestration that can capture carbon off of coal plants, and carbon sinks to allow agriculture to store more carbon in the ground, and it also promotes renewable energy. I think it helps on all the fronts, and for damn good reason. We put out hundreds of billions of dollars in disasters and that number has only grown in the last few years. We need to be aware of these growing natural disasters – we need to be aware of that and be fiscally responsible and dealing with that is part of our fiscal responsibility.”
When asked about western Montana’s increasing number of large forest fires and longer periods of smoky skies, Tester said that his Northwest Jobs and Recreation Act would have addressed the problem.
“The bill got caught up in political baloney so it failed,” he said. “So we split off the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act which will help reduce forest fire risk, and smoke in the air. But that’s been caught up in political baloney too… In fact, these bills allow for better forest management, and increased access for hunting and fishing… but they get caught up in political baloney.”
Despite the “baloney,” the senator said he’s feeling pretty good about what’s been accomplished this year in Washington DC. “There’s a fair amount of baloney, but I’ve been here a number of years now. I’ll be finishing up my 16th year here, and we’ve never had a month like July. We passed the CHIPS act, which will help consumers all across the country; the PACT Act which will help our veterans with their health issues from exposure to toxins and make sure they get the benefits and health care they earned, and then the Inflation Reduction Act, which has some really good things in it, especially for Montana.”
The CHIPS and Science Act will boost American semiconductor research, development, and production, ensuring U.S. leadership in the technology that forms the foundation of everything from automobiles to household appliances to defense systems. America invented the semiconductor, but today produces about 10 percent of the world’s supply—and none of the most advanced chips. Instead, we rely on East Asia for 75 percent of global production. The CHIPS and Science Act will unlock hundreds of billions more in private sector semiconductor investment across the country, including production essential to national defense.
The PACT Act expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras. It adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures and requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
Tester said that he recently presided in the Senate, and what he heard on the floor and what he actually knew to be true were “two different realities.” He also said that the media wasn’t necessarily reporting things accurately. “The big guys get on these rolls of news that is not entirely accurate, and they just stay on it because it increases their viewership.”
In related news, Tester has just been named as the recipient of the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) Guardian of Small Business Award for his work to champion small businesses in Montana and across the country during the 117th Congress. He was one of only two Democrats in the U.S. Senate to receive this year’s award, along with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
“Small businesses are the backbone of Montana’s economy, and I’ll always stand up for them and ensure they have the tools and certainty they need to thrive,” Tester said. “This award doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the thousands of Montana businesses that work every day through challenges big and small to create jobs and power this country.”
According to NFIB, winners of the NFIB Guardian of Small Business Award are consistent supporters of small businesses. Tester’s work to support the Paycheck Protection Program and his defense of stepped-up basis were two key votes for small businesses highlighted by the organization, among others.
Tester has been the leading champion for small businesses in Montana, according to NFIB. Last July, Tester secured $61,327,969 for Montana’s State Small Business Credit Initiative through the American Rescue Plan Act, which will be used for credit and investment programs for small businesses and startups to help them grow and succeed. Tester also stood up and defeated a proposal from President Biden and Democratic Senators to change stepped-up basis tax provisions that would have negatively impacted a families’ ability to keep running a farm, ranch, or small business.
Also last week, Tester announced that he secured $1.1 million for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) through his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The funding will go toward the MDT Truck Parking Project, which will improve safety by providing a safe place for truck drivers to park and rest, and allows carriers to plan routes and realistic delivery times by providing Montana parking locations and availability.
Tester worked across the aisle for months to negotiate the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with a group of five Republicans and four Democrats, and he was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for it.
“The trucking industry plays a critical role in Montana’s economy, keeping goods moving across the northern border and all over the Treasure State,” Tester said. “We’ve all seen the impact that supply chain disruptions have on consumer prices and small businesses, which is why we’ve got to make sure our truck drivers have the resources and infrastructure they need to get goods where they need to go safely and efficiently. I’m proud to have secured this funding for MDT to do just that.”
Senator Tester has been Montana’s leading advocate for the trucking industry. Tester first called for the northern border to fully re-open in May, urging the Biden Administration to work with Canadian officials to swiftly and safely open the border. Earlier this year, he urged DHS to allow all truck drivers and other essential travel across the northern border.
At the end of Tester’s phone call with the Star, he was reminded that while in Washington D.C. earlier this summer he was paid a visit by high school students from Ravalli County and other parts of Montana who had won a trip from their electric cooperatives. One of them was Maddie Sacry from Stevensville, whose father works for the Bitterroot Star. When reminded of that visit, the senator said, “That’s the best part of my day, when I get to talk to students. Best part of my day.”
Victoria Howell can be reached at [email protected]