July 24, 2011

Manchin: We face 'difficult decisions' | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The clock is ticking as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders wrangle out a deal to avert a threatened government debt default.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., urged a common-sense approach to solving the nation’s debt debacle Friday during a speech on the Senate floor. He said this is not a political problem, but an American problem.

“I rise today to speak about one of my gravest concerns, which is our nation's fiscal future,” he said. “All of us — Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates, conservatives — face a choice about whether we will seize the moment before us and confront our grave fiscal nightmare or whether we will let this moment pass us by. Clearly, we face tough and difficult decisions. But the decisions we make as members of Congress must be the right and responsible ones or our beloved nation and our hard¬working families will needlessly suffer.”

Manchin’s speech addressed the Senate’s consideration of “Cut, Cap and Balance” — a proposal approved by the House Republican majority earlier in the week. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was a co-sponsor of the legislation that was doomed to failure in the Senate.

The bill sought an immediate cut of $111 billion in federal spending, placed a cap on future spending at 19.9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, and required the passage of a balanced budget amendment before raising the nation’s debt limit. McKinley said the plan would have made no cuts or changes to veterans’ benefits, Social Security or Medicare.

The Senate rejected the measure in a party-line 51-46 vote Friday.

During Manchin’s speech to his Senate colleagues, he said the House “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan would destroy Social Security and Medicare. That was a position shared by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

However, Manchin said he supports passage of a responsible balanced budget ammendment.

“The ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ plan does not reflect who we are or what we want to be as Americans,” Manchin said. “I believe that we need to cut, but not so deeply and without regard for seniors and our most vulnerable. I believe that we need to cap our spending, but not at a level that could destroy the most important and vital programs that we have in society. I strongly believe that we need a balanced budget amendment, but only one that takes a responsible and reasonable approach.” Manchin’s voice on these matters is strong because he has shown a willingness to break with the president and carve out a niche as an independent. Add that to the fact that Democrats hold a paper-thin majority in the Senate. And during Manchin’s time as governor, he produced fiscally-responsible black ink budgets unlike the sea of red ink faced by most states.

Manchin said he has never seen any place but Washington that puts together a budget based on what the government wants to spend and not on what they have to spend.

Democrats and Republicans are looking for common ground to avoid a government shutdown and possible default on the nation’s debt by the Aug. 2 deadline. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the treasury won’t be allowed to borrow new money to make up for the gap between revenue and spending.

After the Senate voted against “Cut, Cap and Balance,” Rockefeller issued a statement that said he will not support legislation that makes “reckless” cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He said Republican priorities are upside down because they favor wealthy Americans and big companies.

Rockefeller said he is thankful that the Senate defeated this legislation and that “serious deficit negotiations” are taking place. He said there is a “sensible approach” to avoid national default and cut spending while protecting programs that families need.

“Fortunately, serious deficit negotiations are currently taking place,” Rockefeller said in a statement issued Friday. “I am working as hard as I can with other senators to find a sensible approach so that we can avoid a national default, cut federal spending and bring the deficit down. We must protect essential programs that millions of struggling families rely on, while also finding solutions that raise revenues. I believe that we can and will find a smart answer that does just that.”

Manchin praised the efforts made by the “Gang of Six” last week. The “Gang of Six” is the name given to either of two bipartisan groups of six senators, with both groups consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans. This group offered a bipartisan proposal to address the nation’s fiscal challenges. Fifty senators from both political parties attended.

“At that meeting, 50 senators from both parties, evenly split, came together to listen to the hard work of senators who span the ideological spectrum,” Manchin said during his speech to the Senate. “At that moment, the ‘Gang of Six’ turned into what we affectionately called the ‘Mob of Fifty’ — and for the first time in these negotiations about our fiscal future we had a bipartisan plan with momentum that was putting our country first. We should not waste this moment.”

By:  J. Miles Layton