December 29, 2013

Manchin named Statesman of the Year for willingness to compromise | Clarksburg Exponent

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin built his reputation at home in West Virginia as a politician who didn’t subscribe to the ideals of either major national party.

With more than three years in the U.S. Senate now under his belt, Manchin, D-W.Va., is a fixture in national news for his efforts to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans.

In both roles, the constant theme has been putting constituents first, according to those who’ve worked with him.

“He has done a fantastic job in putting a face on West Virginia as a state where we care about people,” said West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison. “We care about balancing our budget. We care about doing the right thing, regardless of differences on the issues. ... He is a great ambassador for the state of West Virginia.”

Miley, who was elected to the House of Delegates the same year Manchin was elected governor, said he’s learned a lot over the years from Manchin.

When Miley was elected speaker, Manchin called him up.

“The most poignant thing that he shared with me is that good policy always makes for good politics and good policy and good politics transcend party lines,” Miley said.

West Virginia Senate Clerk Joe Minard described some other achievements from Manchin’s days in state politics, including work on medical malpractice reform and tort reform.

“He’s always been fairly independent,” Minard said. “He never was a straight party man. I guess you might say he was always an independent thinker.”

Now that the backdrop is one of the most fiercely divisive political landscapes of recent memory, Manchin’s attempts can sometimes seem like wishful thinking.

But sometimes they work.

Most recently Manchin, The Exponent Telegram Statesman of the Year, worked with a group of bipartisan senators on a proposal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
Manchin teamed up with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to find common ground, and the resulting template was used to draft the final bill that ended the shutdown.

Manchin used that accomplishment as an example of when compromise can work.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t get discouraged, especially as other initiatives, including a bill to expand the gun sale background check system, have stalled.

The reaction to that bill showed how disillusioned citizens are with Washington, according to Manchin.

“I get very frustrated,” he said. “I really do. I keep thinking, ‘how come it’s not so plain to everyone else to see what we’re doing to our great country?’ How can we not see that and not take more positive steps? ... I guess the thirst of power and all the money that’s involved. We’ve got to work past it.”

State and Washington, D.C., politics are different beasts, in Manchin’s eyes.

“It’s the city itself of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s the power and the money that goes with this city — the prestige, the world stage we’re on. It makes it a little more challenging to get people to look to put our country before them or their party or their purpose that they’re here. It should be all about country.”

But the junior senator from West Virginia also has a lot of bipartisan successes to be proud of, including an agreement on stronger federal regulation of toxic chemicals.

Before an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which had not been improved in more than 30 years, thousands of chemicals were allowed to remain on the market without being tested for safety.

Manchin was credited for helping broker a deal between New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who advocated for a tougher bill, and Louisiana Republican David Vitter, who supported a more lenient, industry-backed proposal.

Manchin also worked with a bipartisan group of senators on a bill to reduce student loan interest rates after they doubled to 6.8 percent on July 1— to 3.86 percent for subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduate students, 5.41 percent on unsubsidized loans for graduate students and 6.41 percent on PLUS loans for parents and graduate students.

To prevent dramatic increases in the future, the bill also required that for each academic year, all newly-issued student loans be set to the U.S. Treasury 10-year borrowing rate, and that interest rates never exceed 8.25 percent for undergraduate students, 9.5 percent for graduate students and 10.5 percent for PLUS borrowers.

Manchin was proud of the FDA’s recent announcement that it will recommend rescheduling hydrocodone combination drugs from a Schedule III to a Schedule II controlled substance.
He had fought for stricter control of the drug for years, including sponsoring the “Safe Prescribing Act” with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Representatives Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Ed Markey, D-Mass.

“That’s not going to win the war on drugs,” Manchin said. “But it’s going to help us have a better tool in the arsenal to fight it, and I think it will save a lot of lives.”

Manchin said he will continue working on more bipartisan efforts because that’s why he was sent to Congress in the first place.

“When I take that oath of office, I take the oath to represent and to serve everybody, not just the Democrats or the people that voted for me. ... I take it very seriously,” he said.

By:  Erin Beck