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Montana Awaits Jon Tester’s Big Hunt

Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) has touted a pair of regional bills as evidence of his work for Montanans, but both could fall by the wayside in the post-election session if serious opposition emerges.

As soon as the Senate reconvenes the week of Nov. 12, it’s set to resume debate on a Tester bill that includes a number of provisions designed to appeal to sportsmen. The measure cleared a procedural hurdle in the final vote before Senators left to campaign.

But with a jam-packed agenda, one Senate Democrat said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is unlikely to spend much more time on the bill if any Senator throws up additional time-consuming procedural roadblocks.

Republicans have complained that Reid scheduled the vote before the break to generate good headlines for Tester’s re-election campaign against GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Tester and Rehberg are locked in a tight race that could determine whether Democrats retain control of the chamber in the 113th Congress. Recent polls have shown the two essentially tied.

Montana media has given Tester credit for the vote scheduling. The Helena Independent Record, for instance, praised the vote on the bill, which includes a variety of provisions to benefit hunters.

“Tester was able to keep the Senate in session long enough to pass the first procedural hurdle on the way to passing the ‘once-in-a-generation’ sportsmen’s act with 84 ayes,” the Sunday editorial said. “The act represents more than 20 bills that ensure hunting and fishing access along with protections for species and land.”

Among the more intriguing provisions, the sportsmen’s bill would let hunters bring dozens of polar bear carcasses into the United States from Canada.

A senior Democratic aide said Monday that Democrats believe Republicans did not let the bill pass before the elections, despite its bipartisan support, as part of an effort to prevent any good news for Tester. The aide predicted that the opposition will wither after the elections.

An agreement for quick passage will be needed because the lame-duck schedule includes such heavy lifts as the annual defense authorization bill and measures related to the year-end tax and spending issues known collectively as the “fiscal cliff.”

The Billings Gazette editorial board highlighted another Tester initiative that also received a boost from Senate Democrats.

“Tester brought Montanans together to figure out better ways to manage federal forests. The result was that many Montana lumber businesses, sportsmen and conservationists supported the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” the Billings paper said, criticizing Rehberg for opposing it.

Tester has claimed credit for working on that package of conservation and forest management bills, which Democrats want to bundle into the fiscal 2013 Interior Department spending bill. Rehberg has said he worked to ensure it was not included in a catchall spending bill last year. The language is included in a draft Interior spending bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee released late last month.

Tester said in an Oct. 14 debate that the bill would “put loggers to work with chainsaws and truckers to work hauling those logs and give those mills a dependable supply.”

“He doesn’t put the word ‘wilderness’ in the bill, and that’s the only thing that’s guaranteed in that legislation,” Rehberg countered. “It’s 600,000 acres of more wilderness. There’s no guarantee of the jobs, none at all, but there is a guarantee of 600,000 acres of more wilderness.”

Both candidates say dead and dying trees need to be removed from western forestland to reduce the risk of fire.

The forest bill seems likely to remain an issue past Election Day. As for the sportsmen’s bill, Rehberg had supported a much smaller version that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to pass right before the Senate left in September. When Reid objected, McConnell joined in supporting the procedural vote on the Tester measure.

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