I-O joins others on Senate conference call

By Buck Traxler, I-O Editor

The Independent-Observer joined papers from Sidney, Chester, Fort Peck and Havre in a conference call with Sen. John Tester on Thursday morning.

He had just gotten back to Washington, D.C. after being back in Montana over the President’s Day holiday. He noted that he had put over 1,500 miles on the road visiting constituents and hosting a Small Business workshop in Bozeman.

The Senator noted that some 350 people, including 20 federal agencies showed up for the mini-conference which helps small business owners to do work with the government and share information on the contracting process. “We’re trying to level the playing field,” he noted, saying it was a successful event.

Tester will introducing a bill called the Level Playing Field Contracting Act which will, in part restrict most federal agencies from bundling large contracts to increase competition, have federal agencies indicate exactly what they’re  looking for and require the GSA (General Services Administration) to enforce agreements to hire local subcontractors and improve outreach to small businesses.

He was asked if he thought a health care bill would really be passed. Tester told the newspapers the Senate will pass a health care bill before November.

“IF we do nothing, Medicare will go bust, health care costs will continue to break Montana families and rates will continue to go up.”

As the conference call was taking place, other senators and congressmen from both parties were meeting with President Obama in a bipartisan effort to work on health care reform.

He commented on the meeting saying it was a step toward bipartisanship and a reminder that, “We’ve got to work together through these differences, the stakes are just too high.”

New rules on credit card reform went into effect on Thursday and the Senator who is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, helped write the CreditCARD Act (Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act).

He was asked by The I-O to comment on the new bill designed to save card holders billions of dollars by reining in fees and unfair interest rate hikes.

Tester noted that under the new rules, there is a ban on unfair interest rate hikes; Interest hikes on existing balances will be prohibited unless the cardholder is more than 60 days late in making a payment.

It will give cardholders an extra week to pay their bills. The new bill will require statements to be mailed three weeks before the bill is due.

The bill requires companies to give cardholders 45 days notice of interest rates, fee and finance charge increases.

“It will stop credit card companies from exploiting young Americans,” he noted, requiring most card applicants under the age of 21 to get a signature from someone willing to take responsibility for the debt and limiting offers to customers between the ages of 18-21.

And, statements will now have to be clearer to understand and will have to warn cardholders about how long it will take them to pay off their balance if they only make the minimum payments.

“It’s a good bill,” he said, it will help consumers.”

Editor’s note: Once a month, Senator Tester has a conference call with Montana newspapers in a round table discussion format. If you would like to ask a question of the Senator, contact Buck Traxler at the I-O, 271-5561.