MISSOULA — With less than a month to go before Congress needs to pass a budget for the next fiscal year, some Montanans are making a concerted push to ask Montana’s senior senator to support a $3.5 trillion spending plan.
On Thursday, groups of Montanans led by the Montana Sierra Club visited the offices of Sen. Jon Tester in six towns, presenting Tester’s staff with “care packages” and petitions asking the senator to “Be a hero.”
“The main message we’re trying to send is that we want Sen. Tester to support investments in a just and livable future,” said Sierra Club organizer Caitlin Piserchia. “He advocated really hard for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to get it through the Senate. And now that we have this $3.5 trillion outline for the budget reconciliation bill, we need to make sure it includes the right kind of investments to transform Montana and the rest of the county to set us on a path out of the climate crisis.”
In order to keep the rallies streaming live to various social media platforms throughout the day, the visits in the various cities were scheduled for every hour between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Around 2 p.m., 18 Missoulians gathered in front of Tester’s Front Street office with their petition and their “care package,” a big basket of red, white and blue packages. Each package represented one of the six priorities that the Montana Sierra Club and 350 Montana wanted Tester to emphasize in the upcoming reconciliation bill.
One box had a circle and slash through the words “Lead Pipes” while another had a circle and slash through the words “Fossil fuel subsidies.” They also want 100% clean energy, abandoned mine and well cleanup, and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps.
With only a week to go until the reconciliation bill needs to be fleshed out, there’s no time to lose.
Congress’s first infrastructure bill, which funds roads, bridges, rail and broadband, passed the Senate easily in early August with bipartisan support, allocating $550 billion over the next five years. It garnered 69 votes, allowing it to overcome a threat of a filibuster. But it has yet to be considered by the House.
In the meantime, some Democrats are pushing a second $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that goes further by including support for families, expanded federal healthcare, and investments in technologies that reduce carbon emissions.
It could avoid a Senate filibuster if it’s part of the budget process where it could go through a process known as reconciliation. As a result, it would need only 50 votes to pass the Senate. But in order to do that, Democrats need to finish the legislation by Sept. 15 to get it to the floor in time.
That’s why people were knocking on Tester’s doors and calling his offices on Thursday.
Max Smith drove to Missoula from his farm in the Bitterroot Valley to appeal to Tester.
“No farmer like Jon Tester, no small farmer like myself or no person can do this alone. We need to act together and that’s what we’re out here to do: signal a change and hope that he makes the necessary votes to invest in the future.”
Several of the people who spoke while Piserchia was livestreaming mentioned the heavy smoke blocking out the sun over Missoula, saying it was getting more difficult to ignore climate change. Many made emotional appeals saying this may be the last chance to make a big enough change to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Even if it’s not the last chance, the sooner those changes can be made, the better.
“We’re not the only city to come out today, but in Missoula, we have a commitment to 100% clean electricity by 2030. I think it’s likely that we’ll need statewide and federal policy changes to make that happen,” Piserchia said. “This city has set out its vision but we don’t have the policy to get it there. Same for Bozeman and Helena.”
Tester regional director Deb Frandsen asked the group into the office and accepted the care package. She said the senator cares about climate change and knows it’s affecting Montana’s farmers. He now has to plant his crops a few weeks earlier than his grandfather did, Frandsen said.
“He gets it, and this summer’s been a tough one,” Frandsen said. “Climate change is very important to him, and he will keep working on these issues in both the infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation bill.”
Other cities involved in the event include Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman, Kalispell and Billings.