Montana’s next U.S. senator, Republican Steve Daines, says the new GOP-controlled Congress will have an active agenda next year, such as taking on “Obamacare,” passing a balanced budget, blocking costly federal regulations and approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
He says he’s also working on a new bill to increase logging on all of Montana’s national forests and hinder lawsuits by “fringe groups that don’t represent the majority of Montanans.”
But Daines says he considers himself a “pragmatic conservative” who believes Congress must work on bipartisan solutions to succeed.
“You can’t control what the president is going to sign,” he said in a wide-ranging interview Monday. “But getting bills through both the House and, particularly in the Senate, will require some bipartisan support. … I think there is appetite on both sides of the aisle to get legislation passed and on the president’s desk.”
Daines, 52, who’s wrapping up his first term as Montana’s only congressman, won the state’s open U.S. Senate seat in November, handily defeating Democrat Amanda Curtis and Libertarian Roger Roots.
He’s only the third Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in Montana in the last 100 years.
Daines said Republicans, who will control the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006, want the body to pass a budget and move legislation, instead of constantly stalling action.
However, the Senate needs a super-majority 60 votes to move contentious items, and Republicans will have only 54 votes, so they’ll need some Democratic support, he noted.
Still, Republicans have an agenda that will challenge President Barack Obama on many fronts, he said, including:
• Undoing or revising the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Daines said Republicans will try to “put a repeal bill on (the president’s) desk,” realizing Obama will veto it, but also will work on changes that might be acceptable by both parties.
Daines called the ACA a “complex, tangled mess” that should be repealed and has become increasingly unpopular, but said Americans expect something to replace it. Republicans don’t yet have a legislative plan for a replacement, he said.
“We’re going to have to find something that is bipartisan,” he said, adding that there was “nothing bipartisan” about the ACA.
• Passing a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would run through part of eastern Montana.
• Passing a federal budget that will balance over a 10-year period. Daines said he also supports a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
• Passing regulatory reform, particularly on rules that affect energy and energy production.
On timber, Daines said he sent a letter this week to “stakeholders” across the state, asking for input on a bill that would lead to more logging on all 10 of Montana’s national forests.
Such a bill also should include reforms that make it harder for groups to use the courts to stop timber sales on public forests, he added.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who has a bill that includes more logging and wilderness on three national forests in the state, said Monday through his office he wasn’t aware of Daines’ new effort.
“I hope Steve will join me in working on a made-in-Montana solution that cleans up our forest, puts folks to work, and preserves our public lands for future generations,” Tester said in a statement.
Daines also said Montana should think twice before accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, under the ACA, and that the country needs to move away from top-down solutions dictated by Washington, D.C.
“We will have better outcomes when we move more of that decision-making and policy creation back to the states,” he said. “I think that applies to education, that applies to health care, that applies to public-lands management.”