“Check our politics at the door,” Tester says as border security panel sets to begin

Sen. Jon Tester

A seven-member Senate panel charged with finding a solution to the impasse that led to the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history meets for the first time on Wednesday morning, and Sen. Jon Tester said it needs to “hit the ground running.”

Tester, appointed to the bipartisan panel, said that while President Donald Trump has given the group less than a “50-50” chance of succeeding, he believes an agreeable solution can be found.

The stakes, he said, are high.

“This unnecessary government shutdown disrupted too many lives,” Tester said during a media call on Tuesday. “If we don’t strike a long-term budget deal, we’re going to end up right back where we started.”

Trump has made it clear that he’ll consider closing the government once again on Feb. 15 or evoke a national emergency, effectively doing an end-run around Congress to get the $5.7 billion he wants for a wall along the southern border.

Tester said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has already offered a bill that includes full funding for the wall but provides no larger plan on border security and lacks a cost-benefit analysis.

Other options that lean more heavily toward modern technology will also be offered, Tester added.

“I believe they (technologies) can be done for pennies on the dollar, so there needs to be some cost-benefit analysis,” Tester said. “We’ll start our negotiations from points on which we agree. Hopefully we’ll check our politics at the door.”

As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Tester helped write legislation this fiscal year that provided $21 billion for border security and immigration enforcement.

It also included funding to hire thousands of new Border Patrol agents, along with detention beds and fencing. Whatever solution is settled upon, Tester said, it will likely include an all-of-the-above option.

“The final bill will contain more than one thing,” Tester said. “The drugs coming into this country, whether it’s the southern border or northern border, aren’t coming through in backpacks. They’re coming across in cars and trucks and that’s a fact.”