As Republican Steve Daines campaigns for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat, he’s hammered home his message of “more jobs, less government,” saying he knows what the private sector needs to create jobs in Montana.
The former business executive for a Bozeman software-development firm says excessive government regulations are hurting both natural-resource and other jobs in Montana, and that he wants to block, repeal or revise many of these rules.
Yet in the 21 months since Daines has been Montana’s sole U.S. representative, most efforts by him and his fellow Republicans to peel back these laws or rules have failed, passing the House with GOP support but stalling in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The efforts include stripping away environmental regulations, extending or increasing tax breaks for business, making it harder for federal agencies to enact rules -- especially on carbon regulation -- and repealing the 2010 federal health-care overhaul.
His Democratic opponent in the Senate race, state Rep. Amanda Curtis of Butte, says the Daines approach represents a one-sided, pro-corporate agenda that assumes any benefit to corporations and business will flow to workers.
“We have been under policies (for decades) that have enriched the top, and it has decimated the middle class,” she says. “If we’re really going to help the middle class, we need to be investing in the middle class.”
While Daines has been pushing changes that help certain businesses, he’s been voting against or opposing proposals to directly aid the middle class, such as health-care reforms or a higher minimum wage, Curtis says.
Daines’ campaign manager, Jason Thielman, says the congressman is trying to accomplish what Montanans elected him to do: Pass policy that makes it easier for businesses to create jobs.
“They are changes that are needed that are important to Montana,” he says. “(Republicans) were elected to push back on harmful, additional regulations that shut down jobs in Montana. ….
“The bills aren’t moving to become law because we have a U.S. Senate that refuses to take action on these bills (passed by the House). … That’s a significant reason that led Steve to run for the U.S. Senate.”
The Lee Newspapers State Bureau asked Daines to list votes he’s taken or bills and laws he’s supported that would create jobs in Montana.
A sampling of that list includes:
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- The bill requiring President Barack Obama to approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil through eastern Montana and lead to construction jobs. It passed the House in May 2013 but stalled in the Senate.
- Numerous bills to restrict environmental regulations on oil, gas, coal and other natural-resource projects. None has become law.
- A bill to require minimum of logging on all national forests and restricting the ability to appeal timber sales. It passed the House in September 2013 but has seen no action in the Senate.
- Several bills to create various tax breaks for businesses, to encourage investment in the companies, and to protect firms from abuse of patent rights. None has become law
- Repealing the Affordable Care Act, the federal health-care overhaul also known as “Obamacare.” Daines argues that the law imposes extra costs on businesses, preventing them from investing in jobs. The repeal efforts have failed.
Daines also points to his sponsorship of two efforts that became law, that he says help create jobs: A 2013 bill allowing mining to continue in the Limestone Hills west of Townsend while the National Guard uses it for training, and bills that bolstered continuation of ICBM missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.
Still, the vast majority of pro-jobs efforts touted by Daines have not become law.
Thielman says that’s not unusual, because only 2 percent of bills introduced in Congress ever become law. He also says voters should ask why the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t even considered most of the House Republican proposals.
“The Senate should say, `We don’t see things that way, but here’s our counterproposal,’” he says. “You’re not seeing much of that.”
Curtis, a high school math teacher, says Daines and fellow Republicans are pursuing a hardline, extreme agenda, and that’s one reason it’s failing.
Many of the regulations they want to block or repeal are reasonable checks that protect the environment or help workers, and would not be that costly for business, she says.
“I agree that timber, oil and gas are important parts of our economy, but I represent a much more moderate, reasonable and communicative solution, so that we look at all aspects of the economy,” she says.
For example, Curtis says, she supports construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, but only if there’s a guarantee that the crude oil transported from Canada to the United States is refined here, and not exported.
Thielman says Curtis’ position is an endorsement of the Obama administration’s rules and regulations that are hurting the economy.
“Steve (Daines) has an agenda of wanting to provide a check to Obama’s overreach,” he says. “If Montanans agree that those (Obama’s) policies are reasonable … then I’m sure they will find (Curtis’) message persuasive. But I think most Montanans are frustrated and concerned about their ability to support their families and keep their jobs if those policies continue to go unchecked.”