October 26, 2013

Manchin apologizes for gov’t shutdown | Martinsburg Journal

SHEPHERDSTOWN-Senator Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia) addressed topics including the recent government shutdown, Second Amendment rights, the economy and national debt, the coal industry and health care at Shepherd University's Wellness Center Friday morning during a "Coffee and Common Sense" discussion.

Manchin spoke briefly at the informal session, then took questions and comments from the audience.

He began by apologizing for the recent government shutdown, something he said "never should have happened."

"We still are a financial, global market. People are still looking to America for financial stability, and we weren't showing much leadership there," Manchin said. "We've become a divided country, we've become a divided Congress, and that's not what we were sent there to do. You can be a Democrat, a Republican or an independent, but above all, you're an American first."

Manchin received questions about gun control measures, mainly the effectiveness of background checks that are required by law when someone purchases a gun.

Art Thomm, vice president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, along with other members of the League who attended the discussion, felt the background checks are largely ineffective and do not keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.

"Enforcing the laws that you currently have would be better than restricting (the rights of gun owners). All you talk about is ways to take away my rights under the Second Amendment. I haven't heard once how you're going to strip the Second Amendment rights from criminals, the people actually going out and committing these crimes," Thomm said.

Manchin said part of the problem surrounding Second Amendment rights has to do with the lack of good mental health facilities and programs in the state and the nation. He said that need must be met, but it's up to communities within the state to come up with the funding for such treatment.

"And you're right, they haven't done a good job in the background checks, they haven't followed up, and they haven't enforced them. The problem was that there was never any penalty put on the states," Manchin said. "In the future, under a new bill, states will lose their law enforcement support money, and I guarantee you, they will start reporting."

Manchin expressed the need for better infrastructure, even though the nation's economic state is not as favorable as it could be. He said he thought more of the money from the stimulus would go towards infrastructure, but instead went to "prop up government" at the federal, state and local levels.

"If you go back in history, what happened in the 1930s with the Depression? It was all public works projects that rebuilt America. It gave people pride and dignity, it gave them a job, and it also gave the country value," Manchin said. "The formula is right for this economy to take off like a rocket, but the uncertainty and the political dysfunction has kept everybody sitting on the sidelines."

One of the industries that could boost West Virginia's economy is coal mining. Despite the coal industry's impacts on the environment, Manchin said it is one of three reliable sources of energy available at this point in time, apart from gas and nuclear energy.

"Mining is part of our culture, it's who we are, right, wrong or indifferent. We made this country what it is with the resources that come from coal. It's one of the most affordable, abundant, dependable, reliable resources we've ever had. You can mine it, stockpile it, and run it 24/7. We don't have anything to replace it with," Manchin said.

Manchin also addressed questions about health care, including some concerns about the changes coming with the Affordable Care Act. Manchin believes there should not be penalties on citizens who do not enroll in the program, and that there should be a one-year grace period until January 1, 2015 to allow people some time to figure out a plan.

"I believe there should be a transition here. You shouldn't be fined $95 for not signing up for something that's not there. I'm going to introduce legislation saying that this year will be a transitional year, we're working through it," Manchin said. "The Affordable Care Act should be this: no one should have to buy insurance that's more expensive than what they have, or less effective than what they have."

Manchin's stop at Shepherd University was part of a larger tour of the Eastern Panhandle on Thursday and Friday that focused on job creation and the state of the local economy.

By:  Mary Stortstrom