BOZEMAN, Mont. - Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) agreed to participate in a monthly Q&A with NBC Montana to discuss current issues in Washington, D.C., that affect Montanans. This month we asked Tester about what's next with the efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, Tester’s recently introduced bill to address cyber harassment in the military and the challenges facing Montana farmers and ranchers with the struggling agriculture industry. The following is that dialog:
NBC Montana: The Affordable Care Act is still in place. You were a vocal critic of the failed Republican health care plan. What happens next? What are you doing to ensure Montanans have adequate health care coverage?
Tester: That's a great question. I think what needs to happen now is that people need to come together on both sides of the aisle and figure out what to keep in the Affordable Care Act, and there's plenty to keep and fix the things that are wrong with it.
Pre-existing conditions -- you can't put those into a high-risk pool. People would be priced out of the marketplace. That's what the House plan did. Lifetime caps -- you can't put those back on. If you do, when people need insurance the most, when they have cancer or some other life-threatening disease, then they don't have insurance. Working families that are able to take advantage of Medicaid, you can't be throwing those people off. It's just not right.
Now the problem has been the people that don't get any subsidies, and the folks that aren't so rich they don't care, are getting hammered with too high of premiums and too high deductibles.
I think, if we were to sit down, as House and Senate members and as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and work on that issue, we can come up with a pretty good plan that would improve access and improve affordability for Montanans and really keep our health care and infrastructure in place.
I think if we go forward like we did (last month) and try to jam a piece of legislation through in 17 days, with no input from the outside, either Republican or Democratic input I might add, then we're going to end up in the same position we were before. We need to have a bill that does what the president said when he was on the campaign trail. Make the coverage better and make it more affordable. I think that if we're able to work to together to do that, it's a big thing.
NBC Montana: You recently introduced a bill that addresses sexual harassment in the military. Can you tell us more about it and why is it needed?
Tester: There was an issue that came up with a website that posted pictures of naked servicewomen. It was cyber harassment and a very unfortunate situation, because it caused some real distress for those folks who had their pictures put up online for everybody to see. What this bill does is allows for cyber harassment to be treated as military sexual assault. I think it's very important that our military men and women understand that they can't be harassed, whether they're in the theater or whether they're back home.
This bill will help solve a problem out there that was created by a bunch of folks who aren't really strong on responsibility. It's a bill that's important as we have a number of military sexual assault issues that come down the pipe. This is just an add-on to make sure that the entire program is taken care of. So if you get harassed, via the internet, this will help take care of any issues that might arise from that harassment.
NBC Montana: In light of possible changes ahead under the Trump administration, should farmers and ranchers be worried about the future of Montana's agriculture industry?
Tester: As somebody who's been involved in production and agriculture my whole life, and the same for my parents and grandparents, I've got an affinity for agriculture like no other business. We're dealing with some tough times in agriculture right now. Prices are low with grain and cattle. It usually doesn't happen that way, especially after coming off of a half a dozen of the best years we've had in both of those markets.
I think we need to be concerned about agriculture. It's a commodity. Commodities ebb and flow. These are tough times, and we'll get through this, and commodity prices will come back up, and the future will look a lot brighter when they come up. It's just surviving those deep valleys when prices are so low.
Am I concerned about agriculture? You bet I am, and I think it's really important we keep our trading partners around the world, and I think that it's also important that we make sure we have a farm bill that meets the needs of people in production and agriculture and doesn't funnel a bunch of money into people who don't need the money but meets the needs of those farms and ranches out there that need a little support in tough times.
I'm concerned, but we're working on a new farm bill for 2018, and we're working on making sure that this president understands that those trade agreements that we have had in the past are critically important, and we can't lose those markets to Australia or Argentina or Brazil or any other country. We've got to have them. We export nearly all our products that we raise in Montana.