By Jim Mann
A government shutdown is politically undesirable for Republicans and Democrats, Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday, and he believes that making serious long-term spending cuts will require a comprehensive legislative package with buy-in from both parties.
There is currently a deep divide between the Senate Democrats and House Republicans over a continuing resolution to fund the government after March 4. Democrats want to freeze spending at current levels and the Republicans are calling for cuts totaling $61 billion.
"The crystal ball is always cloudy when it comes to things in Washington, D.C.," Tester said during a visit with the Inter Lake editorial board Tuesday.
He believes a compromise will be struck somewhere in between, mainly because shutting the government down after March would have consequences for both parties.
"From a raw political perspective, I don't think it would be good for either party," he said.
Tester said the Obama administration's proposed budget for the next fiscal year does not go far enough in addressing government spending and debt, but he believes there is growing momentum in Congress to seriously address the issue.
"I think there is critical mass to get something done," he said,
His view is that Congress needs to "be careful what (it) does in the short-term ... but you also have to have a long-term plan that is a serious plan."
Tackling federal spending and debt, he said, will require a comprehensive approach to be politically viable. A package approach allows for various constituencies to know that cuts are being spread and shared rather than being carried by a few.
"Don't do it all on my back" is how the various interests will view the problem, he said.
Tester said cutting spending and debt will require all aspects and programs to be considered, rather than just the proposed cuts in discretionary spending -- a fraction of overall spending -- outlined in the president's budget.
"Everything needs to be on the table," Tester said. "The military needs to be on the table. Entitlements need to be on the table."
For Congress to actually pass meaningful cuts will also require buy-in from both parties, he said.
"What will derail it is political motives," he said. "It won't happen if one party does it and the other party doesn't."