Glasgow seniors had the chance to meet last week with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. John Walsh. The two passed through Glasgow while visiting with agencies and citizens during their "listening" tour.
They enjoyed lunch with the seniors on Thursday, Feb. 20, and answered their questions on healthcare and other issues on the community, state and national levels. Afterwards they sat down with The Glasgow Courier to talk a little about what they were doing on their travels.
Walsh explained that they've been traveling over the entire state to hear what people are concerned about. Tester said that about the only area they missed was the middle of the state as they've looped around. The two stopped in Wolf Point before making their way to Glasgow and talked with the tribal members. Tester recently was appointed chairman of the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee.
When asked about important issues they might be looking at in the state ,Walsh mentioned that veterans issues were important as Montana is the second state per capita with vets, just under Alaska. He said he hoped to work out some travel issues to help get vets to VA clinics and with other issues.
Tester mentioned that when they visited Wolf Point they heard that water was a major issue on the reservation, and many were concerned about police protection and healthcare issues. Tester said that because the Dry Prairie Rural Water system spent its money so well and the project has found success, it will be easier to fight to keep it in the budget in Washington D.C.
While in Wolf Point, they also discussed the organized crime on the reservations and seeking more help from the Department of Justice.
Tester said that the senators have heard about the housing crunch in eastern Montana and that even with very low unemployment rates, the cities and counties aren't gathering enough funds to help the infrastructure. He added that they didn't have answers to many of these issues, but learning about them and paying attention could help future efforts.
Tester said that one of the biggest issues they'll be facing is the government's debt. Walsh said that focusing on the local levels and having local communities focus on priorities might help areas deal with some of the budget cuts that might come.
"We need to be making more cuts but to do it responsibly," Walsh said.
Walsh added that there are several ways to cut the budget, and cutting medicare and Social Security might not be a way to fix the problem. Walsh said he believed that there are abuses in the programs, but fixing the problem instead of taking it away from those who need it would be a better solution.
Another issue the two had heard on their trip across the state was healthcare. Tester believed that while the rollout of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare was rocky it has begun to make a difference. He said while sign-ups are still a little slow, the website is now working.
"It's the first time in 30 years we've seen healthcare costs flattening out," Tester said.
Just this past week, Tester introduced a bipartisan bill to improve rural medical care by eliminating a rule that could lead doctors to discharge patients too early. Last week when he spoke to The Courier he explained that rural hospitals are facing issues and said that the new healthcare reform will help take the pressure of medicare and allow more preventative care.
Walsh added that his wife has also faced issues from diabetes, and they had to worry about healthcare costs in the past. He said that the reform needed some improvements, but it was needed and is a start. He said he hoped to hear both sides looking for ways to improve healthcare reform.
As the senators left for their next stop in Fort Belknap, they mentioned plans to possibly catch a basketball game at MSU-Northern in Havre.
While Walsh is learning the ropes in his appointed position to fill Sen. Max Baucus' seat, he has also been campaigning to hold that seat in the upcoming elections.