October 13, 2011

Filibuster frustrates Manchin | Charleston Daily Mail

Joe Manchin is angry.

West Virginia’s freshman Democratic U.S. Senator said Wednesday he was “fired up” over increasingly divisive political games and took to task Republicans, Democrats and President Barack Obama for failing to work together to improve the nation’s economy.

“Unfortunately, the legislative process in Washington has gotten so dysfunctional that it doesn’t even make much sense at all anymore,” Manchin said in a morning conference call with reporters.

Manchin’s frustration centered on the Senate’s failure Tuesday to end a Republican filibuster of the president’s $447 billion bill aimed at reducing the country’s persistently high unemployment rate.

As expected, Senate Democrats were unable to get the necessary 60 votes to end a filibuster on the bill, stalling it indefinitely and adding more fuel to an already hyper-partisan debate over the proposal. 

The president has traveled the country in recent weeks trying to drum up support for the plan. Critics have accused him of using it as an excuse to essentially hold campaign for re-election. The president’s closest advisers have been on cable news shows recently, blasting Republicans for holding up the measure in light of the weak economy. 

But by most accounts, the president’s bill lacked enough support from Democrats to pass even if the filibuster had been stopped. 

Manchin said he would not have voted for the bill in its original form, but he did vote to end the filibuster. He said that would have advanced the measure to the stage where it could be debated and changed. That might have resulted in a compromise proposal that could pass, he said. 

Specifically, Manchin said he would have sought to eliminate the $240 billion extension of the payroll tax cut, which he said “hits Social Security right smack in the face.” 

The president also had proposed a further extension of the period for which people can collect unemployment benefits. Jobless workers already can collect benefits for 125 months, or nearly 2 1/2 years. 

Manchin said benefit extensions should be tied to programs aimed at training workers in new skills. 

“If we continue to extend unemployment benefits without mandating that you must have skill-set training or education, if you don’t do those things, then all we’re doing is setting you up to fail,” he said. 

But Tuesday’s vote meant none of those issues could be brought up — and put Manchin on the warpath against politics in general. 

“We have become paralyzed by the filibuster and an unwillingness to work together at all, just because it’s an election cycle,” Manchin said. 

“We couldn’t even get the horse in the start gate, let alone to run the race. That’s the problem here,” he said. “It’s political and it’s being played absolutely unmercifully at the highest level.” 

To say Manchin sounded frustrated on the conference call could be an understatement. At times he bypassed reporters’ questions to vent about how paralyzed and dysfunctional Washington had become.

The former governor talked fondly of how he and lawmakers back in West Virginia could work together in spite of their differences to make things better in the state. He said he’s found Washington to be a “completely chaotic system ... that doesn’t really have much input.” 

And he wasn’t just talking about Republican and Democratic congressional leaders. He had some pointedly harsh criticism for Obama. 

“This president has to take the side of the American people and not think about whether this will make for a better campaign ad and this makes me look good,” he said. 

“I just know leadership, if I could give advice: In leadership, you’ve got to put partisanship aside,” he said. “I think I’m very objective, and I think I’m being respectful when I say, ‘Mr. President, lead — lead!’ That’s what people are starving for.” He said the president’s failure to lead combined with the unceasing bickering between the parties is keeping the economy in the doldrums. 

“We will not change this economy until we build confidence,” he said. “And if you can’t have Democrats and Republicans working together in Washington, you build no confidence. And when there’s no confidence in the system, there’ll be no investment, and if you’ve got no investment, you’ll have no jobs.” 

He said he’s not naive enough to think politics can be removed completely. He just wishes the partisanship would stop getting in the way of advancing measures people could agree upon to move the country forward. 

Manchin said he has heard the president now may ask Congress to take up aspects of his jobs plan in more of a piecemeal approach. 

Manchin said he was willing to work with anyone to get a plan passed. 

“I’m to the point now, let’s do something,” he said. “Count me in — I’m going to work with anybody and everybody that has a commonsense approach toward working for the best of West Virginia.”

By:  Jared Hunt