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Montana delegation split as federal government nears shutdown

Montana delegation split as federal government nears shutdown

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HELENA – As Congress edged toward a possible government shutdown Monday night, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said he planned to vote for the latest GOP offers to delay or modify “Obamacare,” in exchange for avoiding the shutdown.

But the delegation’s two Democratic U.S. senators said the time for bargaining is over, and the House should allow an up-or-down vote on a “clean” budget bill that extends spending and leaves the health-reform law intact.

“What really needs to happen is that (House) Speaker John Boehner needs to let the House vote on the continuing resolution to keep the government open,” Sen. Jon Tester said on MSNBC Monday afternoon. “I think the problem might be solved, because they may have the votes.”

The positions and words of Montana’s politically split delegation closely reflected the budget and policy standoff in Washington, on Monday and in the days before.

Daines, a freshman congressman considering a run for the U.S. Senate next year, has voted consistently with House Republicans in their effort to demand repeal and now a delay of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Monday evening, the House planned votes on tying the budget bill to a one-year delay in Obamacare’s mandate that all individuals have or buy health insurance by 2014, or to the removal of federal assistance for congressional employees buying health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.

Daines indicated he would support both votes.

When asked Monday evening if he would support an up-or-down vote on the spending bill to keep the government open, without the provisions to delay or modify Obamacare, he said he would “wait and see how this all unfolds.”

Yet Daines also said he felt the Senate and President Barack Obama have been unreasonable in not bargaining with House Republicans over the budget bill, which needed to pass Monday night to avoid a partial government shut-down.

“We’re hearing from the voice of Montanans and Americans, saying we want two things: We want to see the government remain open and have Congress act on some of the harmful provisions of Obamacare,” he said. “I’m hoping the president and the speaker (of the House) can engage so we can find some common ground to move forward.”

Yet neither the president nor Democrats in the Senate showed any inclination to budge, saying they won’t undermine Obamacare, and that keeping the government running should be a fairly routine vote.

“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway,” Obama said on national TV Monday afternoon.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the debate can continue over possible adjustments to Obamacare, but that there’s no need to shut down the government or dismantle the legislation to make that happen.

“A shutdown would put more than 12,000 Montanans out of work for no reason,” he said. “Instead of putting folks out of work, Congress needs to come together to continue basic services quickly, and get back to doing the work people sent us here to accomplish, like passing a Farm Bill.”

Tester also said there is no support among Democrats nor reason for delaying any other part of Obamacare, which has a roll-out Tuesday of a major provision – the health insurance marketplaces that offer subsidized, private health insurance for the uninsured.

“If there is one mistake that was made with Obamacare, it was that we didn’t implement it quick enough,” he said. “And there are some folks who want to delay it, and that’s very, very unfortunate.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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