HELENA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is announcing priorities that include more help for jobless veterans, energy development and renewed focus on fixing the nation's debt.
Baucus was home Thursday speaking to the Montana Legislature, which convened this week for its once-every-other-year session. The state's senior senator is up for re-election in 2014.
The state's U.S. senators typically give a speech early in the Legislature outlining issues on the federal level.
Baucus said he will renew his push for authorization of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline so construction can get started on a project that would run from Canada and through Montana on its way to refineries in Texas.
"We really are the treasure state. Think of other states, they don't have near the resources we have," Baucus said. "This is an advantage we have so let's take advantage of these resources and make them really work for us."
Republicans welcomed the call for developing Montana's natural resources, including coal, and Baucus' proposal to focus on the problem of deficit spending.
"I believe we need to have our fiscal house in order, and that something they need to work on at the federal level," said state Sen. Edward Walker of Billings.
Walker, who works at a company involved in developing the state's oil fields, said federal approval of the Keystone Pipeline will be "a critical part of the state's infrastructure."
Baucus also told the state lawmakers that Congress needs to "get serious about tackling our debt."
Baucus said his first bill to the new Congress will be to help veterans find jobs by ensuring that military trade certifications are accepted in the civilian world. He mentions firefighters, police, and air traffic controllers as examples of potential crossover certification that would make it easier for vets to get a job when they return home.
Baucus also renewed his call to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters after the speech, Baucus said also said he thinks there will be more pressure from the Senate to do so this year.
Baucus criticized the intense partisanship that has led to gridlock in Washington D.C. But he also touted successes like the highway bill, which brings millions to the state, and the recent fiscal cliff deal.
And the Democrat, who chairs the influential Senate Finance Committee, defended the fiscal cliff deal's tax extensions for large corporations. Critics say the tax breaks continue giveaways to some of the wealthiest corporations.
Baucus argued that the breaks, which originated in his committee, had bipartisan backing and got rid of some of the breaks in the previous round of "tax extenders."
The Democrat said the tax deal, overall, is a big improvement because it makes permanent estate tax relief, important to farmers and ranchers, extends many breaks used by middle-class and small business tax breaks and solved other issues.
Another part of the deal that has drawn criticism axed a temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax. Baucus said that was a necessary measure.
"Montanans also need a strong Social Security trust fund, too," Baucus said.
He said the coming year will include battles over spending as Congress debates the delayed sequestration cuts, the nation's debt limit and writes new spending bills.
"We are going to have to work hard to make sure we appropriately reduce the debt," Baucus said.