August 11, 2011

Manchin: Put country first | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stopped by the Say-Boy Steakhouse on Wednesday for a little “Coffee and Common Sense” with Marion County’s civic and business leaders.

The senator spoke of the need for political unity in the face of an uncertain economy. He said lawmakers from both parties — blue state Democrats and red state Republicans — need to cross the aisle to put their country first, not their party.

“We’re not talking a red problem or a blue problem, but a red, white and blue problem — an American problem,” Manchin said. “So it is going to take us acting like Americans at this point in time because we are on the edge right now financially."

During “Rebuilding America” Week, Manchin has met with business and labor leaders, students, manufacturers and residents throughout the state to highlight a multi-pronged, commonsense legislative strategy for job creation and economic growth.

“Sen. Manchin has always approached government in a practical aspect. He listens to people, builds consensus and fights hard for good public policy. That’s the Joe I know,” said State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion. “It’s typical of Joe to come back to the community and get input from the people he represents.”

Manchin said the debt crisis would be solved by a blend of everything ranging from increased tax revenues to deep spending cuts. Some might say talk like this means tax hikes, but not Manchin.

“You can’t fix it without a piece of everything,” he said. “When they talk revenue, the first thing people think — are they going to raise my taxes? They don’t have to raise your taxes. We’ve proven that. The debt commission showed that you don’t have to raise the rate that you are paying. What we have to do is look for ways to eliminate fraud and abuse and prevent loopholes.”

Manchin said spending priorities should be centered around values. Citing his experience as governor, West Virginia looks after senior citizens, children and veterans, he said. When talking to colleagues about the budget, Manchin offers this advice.

“If you make your priorities around your values, and ironclad set down what you are going to protect, you can work on everything else,” said Manchin, who produced balanced budgets during his time as governor. “That means you don’t have to grow other programs and you can downsize government through attrition. I don’t say that because I think it will work. I know it will work. ... We had six straight years of surpluses and three straight years of increases from our credit ratings. ... Common sense has got to prevail.”

Manchin then asked a question about where to trim the fat — people that may not necessarily deserve that government check.

“Does anyone know anybody receiving a benefit from the government that may be question able or you don’t think they deserve,” he asked.

Many of the more than 50 people gathered smiled or laughed at Manchin’s question. He said more than $125 billion was lost or mismanaged last year, according to the Government Accounting Office.

“That’s exactly the response I get everywhere. Everybody shakes their head. Absolutely,” he said. “So why wouldn’t you start there (to cut waste)? That’s easy pickings. You are not going to be hurting the people that really need it. And you know someone who’s getting it that shouldn’t be getting it. ... Take $125 billion over 10 years, that’s $1.25 trillion dollars saved without cutting the basic functions of a program.”

Manchin is not in favor of spending more money to pursue America’s wars overseas. Based on Manchin’s experiences visiting the Middle East as governor in 2006 and later as a senator in 2011, it is time to withdraw, he said.

“I think you all know how I feel about the war,” he said. “I came to that conclusion because I’ve been there. I haven’t seen improvements in five years. Afghanistan is as bad if not worse. I saw Iraq; I can’t say it’s really stable. I think as soon as we leave, it won’t have the stability that you think it would have based on all the investment we have made. And if you think we have an ally in Pakistan, we better work a lot harder to make sure they are on our side and not against us.”

Manchin then explained the way Washington thinks about paying for this war as it relates to the debt. The government counts as $1 trillion dollars in savings not to fight the war. Add that total to the $400 billion needed to finance the war — $1.4 trillion dollar total.

The crowd nodded in approval when Manchin applied a little common sense to these phantom savings.

“I couldn’t sell that on my best day. That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

Lack of jobs is on everyone’s minds. People told him that uncertainty and increased regulations are the biggest things keeping business from hiring new workers. Manchin decried the “shovel-ready” stimulus package that wasn’t so shovel ready. He said the last stimulus package sought to help people who relied on government for services more so than infrastructure needs.

“Only time will tell, history will tell if we did the right thing or not,” he said. “We had gone into a recession — did we avoid a depression? History will tell you that.”

Manchin said people are pointing fingers instead of focusing on what solutions like rebuilding infrastructure. Still, Manchin is optimistic the economy will improve because he believes in America.

Based on his experiences as governor, Manchin said he told the Washington crowd, “I make mistakes. There are things I would have done differently as governor. But every time I made a mistake, I said, ‘Let’s go fix it. That didn’t work out.’ I didn’t blame someone. I didn’t say it was the previous administration. ... I said we’ve got problems and we can fix them. ... This country is big enough and good enough to fix any problem we’ve got. We’re that strong. Our economy is that strong. We’re slowed down but even at our slowest pace, we’re still stronger than anyone in the world. We can rebound. We can fix things.”

By:  J. Miles Layton
Source: Senator: U.S. is 'big enough and good enough to fix any problems we've got'