Jon Tester Says He Wants To Balance the Federal Budget. He's Spent His Career Voting the Other Way.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
June 3, 2024

In a bid to boost his moderate credentials amid one of the cycle’s toughest reelection campaigns, Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) has pledged to balance the federal budget.

There’s just one problem: Tester voted against balanced budget legislation at least eight times since entering the Senate, a Washington Free Beacon review has found. During Tester’s time in the Senate, the national debt has increased by 400 percent.

Throughout his more than 17 years in the Senate, Tester has had ample opportunities to vote for balanced budget laws proposed by his Republican colleagues. As recently as February 2022, Tester voted against a balanced budget point of order.

That proposal, authored by Sen. Mike Braun (R., Ind.), would have created a 60-vote threshold for any budget that does not reduce the deficit to zero within nine years. In July 2011, Tester went even further and voted against a bill that would make any increase of the debt limit "contingent upon passage of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment."

Now, Tester is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to pass a balanced budget each year barring war, economic crisis, or a three-fifths vote to override the requirement.

The amendment, which Tester unveiled in May, is the senator’s latest attempt to rebrand himself as a moderate as he battles for a third term. Tester’s seat is a top target for Republicans, who believe Tester will have a difficult time running ahead of former president Donald Trump. Trump won Montana by more than 15 points in 2020.

Tester has voted with President Joe Biden 91 percent of the time—more than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), according to FiveThirtyEight—since Biden entered the White House. He voted in favor of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says could cost up to $4.1 trillion by the end of 2031.

A spokesman for Tester did not respond to a request for comment.

Tester blamed the rising national debt on Republicans when he first ran for office in 2006. At the time, the national debt was around $8.7 trillion. Today it sits at roughly $34.61 trillion.

"Now, Jon Tester’s running for the U.S. Senate to teach Washington something new," a Tester campaign ad said in 2006. "Honest government, energy independence, and to stop the waste that passes on debt to our children."

This isn’t the first time Tester has claimed to favor policies he previously voted against. In April, Tester’s campaign announced a $14.5 million ad campaign that features footage of the southern border wall, even though he voted against funding the structure in 2017.